A Part Time Midwesterner’s Perspective of Robinson Alone

Erin Breen uses her geographic perspective to review Kathleen Rooney’s poetry collection, Robinson Alone.

Kathleen Rooney. Robinson Alone. Gold Wake Press. 2012. 132 pages. $12.95. ISBN: 9780983700142.

Kathleen Rooney’s Robinson Alone is a collection of short poems that tell the tale of Robinson, a man based off a character in Weldon Kees’ poem “Robinson,” a poem which describes a man’s dog observing his master’s house once “Robinson has gone.” Following the character Kees created to a tee, Rooney takes us through Robinson’s life from his “middlewest” beginning to his stints in New York, California, and various road trips throughout the United States. Rooney brings to life Kees’ character from “Robinson” and gives him a life that is so real it can be easy to forget that Robinson is not a real person.

Coming from the “middlewest” myself, I could understand Robinson’s intense desire to leave the place exhibited in the poem “Robinson’s Hometown.” In this poem Robinson retained his desire to return to his hometown once he left, a sentiment I found to be incredibly accurate. As my history teacher once said, “The Midwest is the kind of place you miss.” Of course, Robinson would have his moment of exultation once outside the limits of his small town, but regardless of who you are or what your personality, the Midwest will creep its way back into your thoughts, leaving a melancholy that I found in Rooney’s book. It is easy to show one’s desire to leave. It is much harder to ingrain in a piece an inexplicable longing for an escaped hometown.

After Robinson’s move to New York City, the best characterization of the Midwest’s pull is when in “Robinson’s Parents Have Come to the City for a Visit” Robinson’s parents visit and “Bells in the tower of the church next door bellow the hour./The Our Father pops into his head unbidden; he’s not a pray-er.” The repercussions of his parents’ visit can be seen immediately after the visit in the following poem, “Robinson Sends a Letter to Someone.” Robinson takes a break from the city. We can see Robinson grappling with his desire to both be away from and return home in lines like, “Robinson/desires-& tires of-the semi-/constant public performance/required,” “Late of NYC, he’s really/from the late Great Plains, the great/American desert, the sea of grass/that has no real sea,” and, even in one of the final poems, “Out West,/in the hinterlands, no one/ever walks. But after work,/Robinson’s a one-man parade.”

Rooney did such a good job of capturing this unattainable sentiment that her Robinson immediately resonated with me, and it was not until writing this review that I knew why. This collection is perfect for anyone born of the Midwest, though I doubt coasters could fully understand the sentiments, having not grown up in the distinct salt-of-the-earth, bread basket culture that is hard to pin down and entirely unique to the American Midwest. Robinson’s story is both ordinary and vastly intriguing, one that everyone should discover.

 

Psychological Examinations for the Existentialists

Isaac Dwyer peers around Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi’s Fra Keeler, and finds a whole lot of neuroses, pomegranates, and manila folders.

Azareen Van Der Vliet Oloomi. Fra Keeler. St. Louis, MO. 2012. 128 Pages. $16. ISBN 978-0-984463-4-5

To be weird. To be confused. To drown in the dreamy, the disconnect, the anxiety. To be caught. To be introverted and obsessive, compulsive and circulatory, rambling, dark. These are the tools of this era’s writer, these are the goals, the endgames, the means, the powerhouse for all hyper-microscopic  psychological examinations. Post-modernism, existentialism, what have you: this is how today’s writer can get into your skull, dig around for a few hours, and either turn you into something new or atomize your entire existence.

This is where you will find Fra Keeler.

A man moves into a house previously inhabited by the mysterious Fra Keeler, and begins to investigate the circumstances of his death, for no other reason asides from the fact that our narrator happened to have purchased Keeler’s house. In the process, he gets so wrapped up in his own mind and pseudo-surrealist rants that it becomes a dialogue of OCD introspection coupled with pleasant, though wasted, uses of delightfully musical words such as “humdrum.”

The best way to describe the narrator is neurotic. A passage:

“When I bent down to stack the papers, I thought the sensation I had had in my brain earlier was the same sensation I had once felt when I shook a pomegranate near my ear […] it had made the same sound as the sound my blood made when it swiveled in my brain, and that both sounds led to the same sensation of having something dissolved where it shouldn’t have[…]”.

Such an examination has its place, for sure, and certainly there is a style of writing that employs sections well. One example of this is Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory, where the narrator takes extreme care in describing the object that is the namesake of the book – a device that sends wasps spiraling to their deaths, varying from drowning in urine to combustion. But, alas, this is not the case for Fra Keeler, for, to put it simply, the subject matter just isn’t wacky enough. The neuroses comes in empty-handed and aimless, like the babblings a schizophrenic makes to a lamp post about what she had for breakfast. Being disoriented can only carry a plot (or the reader’s interest) so far.

In Fra Keeler, Van Der Vliet Oloomi also has the tendency to brush by subjects of intrigue, such as the nature of death and its importance to the human condition, with blasé importance but no indulgence. The voice carries with it the alienated observations of Camus’s Mersault in The Stranger, saying things such as “The phone rang persistently. I let it ring a few times. Imagine, I thought, the possibilities on the other end.” – but, much to its detriment, masks all potential importance with mindlessness. All potential whimsy is dry and falls flat, like the icing on a grocery store cupcake: “What madness is this, I thought, when I awoke in the midst of the woods. Not the woods per se, but the trees at the far end of the garden. Everything looks larger when you are looking at it from the bottom up.”

Although it toes the pleasant border between enchantment and post-modernism, a spot that allows for mind-blowing observations and emotional investigations, Fra Keeler is unable to do either, because it refuses to touch down to focused human sensitivity. Van Der Vliet Oloomi, however, appears to possess the skill necessary for deep introspection. Perhaps, a future novel is to be looked forward to.

Early Judgments

Clint Margrave’s The Early Death of Men will die on you early – if you’re expecting something filled with skulls.

Clint Margrave. The Early Death of Men. New York, NY. 2012. 96 pages. $14.95. ISBN 978-1-935520-60-3

Cover art is in interesting thing: we see it and it calls to us, pulling our sweaty palms to the spines of dusty books – or, it makes us violently avert our eyes and wish we’d never caught a glimpse of it. When I first saw the dark drawings of scapulae and vertebrae on Clint Margrave’s latest collection of poems, my sweaty hands were magnetized to its flesh. I believed I was about to bite into a piece of epic, morbid, and perhaps even gothic humanism. In, they are poems of the existential, poems of wisdom gained, of innate humor in dark situations. They are poems of philosophy, nostalgia, of recklessness. Not quite what I was expecting – but of course, I shan’t blame the author for not succeeding at something he wasn’t trying to do. Instead, I shall examine the part that actually matters the most about the book (i.e. not the cover) – the text. A poem’s title:

“The Role of Art”

Quite a noble topic to attempt to tackle in a poem, indeed. One that, after the Enlightenment period and the coming of self-awareness in Western society and thought, that became a topic of debate in many a French salon and thoughtful letter among the edified aristocracy. Surely though, since the topic is so heavily trodden, we should expect Margrave to provide an interesting twist, a new angle. Some lines:

“Like all who tell the truth,/ Art has few patrons,/is always offending somebody./Art is solitary,/rebellious/abstract./It is not communal./And when embraced too fully,/has a tendency/to crash things down.”

Alright. Here are some ideas on this grand topic, and yet I am left asking – where is the power behind these statements? They are constructed like those in a philosophical essay, and lack the spark that is required of a poem: the ability to revitalize what has been said by saying it in a way that can’t be said. The ability to make me, the reader (or listener) have shivers rocket down their spine with the knowledge that they have heard something carrying an undeniable truth. These statements saying things like “Art is an outcast/whose only role/is to protect its value” leave me not with a feeling that I have received a truth, but instead feeling discontent. If the function of this poem was to change or enlighten my perspective as to the role of art, it was not successful.

It can be said that the difference between a novel and a poem is that a novel opens the door to your home (with your good graces) and moves in with all of its stuff – furniture, un-nameable musical instruments, and psychological disorders – and camps out in your living room for a few months. A poem, on the other hand, opens your door without knocking, screams something profound in its haggard and tired voice, and slams the door closed again, perhaps knocking a few priceless artifacts off of your wall while doing so.

And thus, I have more difficulties as I encounter another of Margrave’s poems, Exposed:

“His last night at the hospital,/my dying father was in no condition/to change himself./The nurse and I slipped his pants down,/and for the first time,/I saw he wasn’t circumcised.”

Sure enough, this seemingly autobiographical story holds within it plenty of leads – the one that Margrave chooses is one wherein he speaks that the differences between the Voice and the Father goes beyond the internal, but to the external as well. It’s a perfectly plausible avenue, but one that is executed with such blundering imprecision that I found myself scratching my head after reading it, thinking to myself, “is that really it? Why is this a poem and not a personal essay?” Sure, plainly written, everyman-style poetry has a solid place in literature – Andrea Gibson, with her raw content that screams through a megaphone, even in the dark corners of a university library, is proof of that. But, that’s because she’s effective in extracting all of the emotion out of a thought without delving into contrived similes and cliché literary devices, so the sound of spoken language streamlines the emotion as it would in a tear-jerking argument. In Exposed, Margrave fails to make use of the tools and freedom the poetic form provides to elaborate upon his desired effect, or to compact enough emotion into its lines for me to rationalize its minimal length. I want the real story. I want the background. I want emotional history. I want to feel empathy for the Voice. As a reader, I feel denied of it.

The Early Death of Men is a collection of poetry caught in its fetal stages somewhere between non-fiction essays and everyman poetry, with as much precision as a jackhammer trying to perform neurosurgery. Ignore it, and instead scour and search for some literature that will truly shake, dismantle, and empower you.

 

 

A Triumph for Joe

Isaac Dwyer finds extreme pleasure in reciting the passages of Brendan Constantine’s latest book, Calamity Joe

Brendan Constantine. Calamity Joe. Pasadena, CA. 2012. 109 pages. $17.95 ISBN 13978-1-59709-176-3

Calamity Joe, the kaleidoscopic soup that is the most recent collection of LA-based Brendan Constantine’s work, is, to put it frankly, a work of beauty. It is a walk that traverses the so-called “Legend of Joe”, a funky disgruntled man who works in a failed lab-rat research facility and holds Socratic dialogues with himself and a variety of macabre characters, such as a nine-fingered girl. This book is creepy, kinesthetic, outlandish, surreal, and downright funny – in an ironic, self-referential way – beginning with the very title of the first section:

Once

“What is done out of love lies beyond good and evil.”

-Friedrich Nietzsche

“Friedrich Nietzsche was stupid and abnormal.”

-Leo Tolstoy

This is a book of psychological warfare and chained beauty, calamities in hilarity, matched with down-to-earth honesty that emerges from the most inconspicuous landscapes. From conversations with God to celebratory search parties, Joe, the collection’s main character, is confused and befuddled by his personal crises. In the second section, the first thing that he cares to tell his audience is about how when he joined a search party, he “dressed all wrong” and that “there was no cake”. A peculiar man, indeed! I cried out, left in a spot between tears and laughter, the bridge over normalcy laced with bouts of sadness.

Calamity Joe is the kind of book that you could read for eternity and still be caught off guard by. Even as your mind settles into familiarity with the   quip-y and poignant language, it is still a master fencer, dancing with its rapier like a maddened Cossack. One of my favorite pages I held in my lap for at least an hour while driving through the Mojave Desert, watching the Kern County mini-metropolises bounce around in stagnation over the dusted plains, entitled “Nobody’s daddy but my own”. The poem is a collection of Craigslist listings, with the usual sense of bizarre-ness and pizazz that the book trademarks from its first pages:

“Want to watch TV? Me – 96 5’10”/interested in soup, lawn chairs, love./ You – ageless, faceless, unnamed”

Alternative and awkward, entertaining and deep-sinking. I caught the eyes of a road urchin while reading the poem in the back of a car – a sunburned man with wispy electrified hair and sapphire blue eyes smoking a cigarette while sitting on an ATV (the epitome of sketchy skeez-ball) – and I thought that perhaps he would be the perfect mate for Joe’s Craigslist finds. For Joe and my roadside attraction, however, the spicy babushka is too far away, and so they are doomed to loneliness and petrification.

Calamity Joe is quirky, clever, and just past the level of standard comprehension. Reading it is a worthy tour through the mind of a breathtakingly beautiful poet, and it sticks and jams itself into an unknown, and yet not entirely unfamiliar, niche of even the most cultured of poetic brains. Constantine is a wily son-of-a-gun – and if you can, you should buy his book.

Maybe I’m Not Real, Either

None of this is Real, by Miranda Mellis, confuses Isaac greatly.

Miranda Mellis. None of this is Real. San Francisco, CA. 2012. 115 pages. $18.00 ISBN 978-0-9814975-4-9

Miranda Mellis is of the breed of writers who I like to call “zippy” – page after page collides with one another like an existential car crash wherein instead of airbags, the drivers are sprayed with neon acrylic paint. The result is a reader (aka myself) who, following the end of one of the short stories in None of This Is Real , is suddenly filled with a violent urge to recreate the Scottish charge on Hadrian – to paint myself blue and run down the mountains screaming, waving an enormous stick. Except, unlike the Scottish berserkers, I wouldn’t have a real cause except for the confusion of my own psyche, and subsequent frustration.

None of this is real. I am carried away in a two-story Victorian house by the branches of the trees that surround me, dragging me up beige pinstripe wallpaper on crooked hands to deposit me who knows where. Or maybe this is just the front cover. Actually, it really is just the front cover of this bizarre little bundle of plant fibers coated in plastic. See, what this book really is, is something different – not the actual story lines (mildly fantastical) or the writing style (it follows standard conventions of imagery, voice, et cetera), but rather, the way the stories are presented. Abnormally constructed characters with normal characteristics do normal things in ways that are also normal but are presented so that you have to second-guess their normalcy. In other words, nothing is very unreal, you just think that it is until you realize you’re wrong. Bizarre indeed.

In one of the stories, I found myself attempting to discover reality on the gentle curve and tumultuous waves of my face. For you see, perhaps:

“We would walk right to the edge of high cliffs, a small crowd marveling at the vista. Beautiful? Opaque[…]My body was rejecting meaning, or so it seemed. At the very least, I had learned to refrain from complaining. Or even speech. In not speaking I became a plateau.”

A plateau, then, perhaps – where my nose would meet my ears on a flat plan and would rise above my neck where the words in my lungs struggle to haul themselves up the cliffs of my trachea. But once again, none of this is real. None of this is real, but perhaps, you would think there would be a straight narrative somewhere in this multitudinous collection? I’m afraid you would be wrong. Or, if not wrong, disappointed.  You see, as I quickly discovered after reading the pages of the work’s namesake story, “None of This Is Real”, Miranda Mellis is zippy. Zippy, do you understand? Zip-zap-ziggy-zaggy-zop. You think your finger has found its definition, but then the little letters run off of the microfilm machine and you have to chase them all the way over to the trash can, only to figure out that they aren’t what you’re actually looking forward. Elusive little epistles. O, the protagonist of this story, goes to get an MRI during one of the many erratic sections. This is what he is told:

“You have developed a growth, she said. O thought it looked like a kite or a feather. No, the doctor replied, it’s nothing like a kite or a feather. It’s rigid, cartilaginous, more like a fin[…] Ignoring him, the doctor got out her pendulum. Was he born with the errant flap or not? Where did it come from? Was it an organism, a mutation? The pendulum reading was indeterminate.”

I wasn’t aware that the origin of errant flaps growing at the base of my skull could be discovered through hypnosis. I don’t expect my protagonist to be like this: “In the same way that he spoke with enthusiasm about astrological signs while what he habitually felt was a droning confusion punctuated by political despair, so too did O seek hypoallergenic pillows when he meant to be writing his encyclopedic, world-historical novel.”

Now, the true question for a potential purchaser/reader: Is the thing actually any good? You, you dodgy reviewer, what is your criticism? Should I even bother? Why are you taking your time dilly-dallying around the point? You see, the true answer to that is that I don’t know, and I don’t think that it really matters. Sure, read it, why not? You’ll probably giggle as much as I did while doing so. Or don’t.  Your life won’t be incomplete.

After all, none of this is real.

Cataclysmic Successes

Isaac really, really, really likes Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby.

Matt Bell. Catacalysm Baby. Fort Collins, CO. 2012. 105 pages. $12.00 ISBN 978-0983026372

To say that Cataclysm Baby, the new collection of Short Stories by Matt Bell published in Mud Luscious Press’s Novel(la) series is “strange,” “good,” or even “artistically and intellectually unique”, would be doing it a disservice . It is so much more than that; so much more than a single category, a single adjective. The book tells the stories of and examines a series of births, with the babies’ names organized A through Z, in individual sections, with titles such as Fawn, Fiona, Fjola and Griffin, Grayson, Guillermo. With each section, the author skillfully reveals disturbing and cleverly constructed events having to do with the children, crossing such other-worldly incidences as a baby being replaced by a “chrysalis, this cocoon, this child-shaped bundle found wrapped in our morning sheets, tangled in the space where our toddler daughter once slept.”

Alongside the brilliantly gruesome plots and development, even the basic prose of this book is perfected down the choice of every word, the inflection and connotation behind every sentence. Bell has especially mastered the art of opening a charismatic and enrapturing story, oftentimes giving depth and emotion to an image and characters within a single sentence. This artistry is visibly prominent from the moment the book is opened, for instance, in the first story, Abelard, Abraham, Absalom:

“This smoldered cigar, last of a box of twenty, bought to celebrate happier times, now smoked to keep away the smell of our unwashed skin, of our slipping flesh, of our baby grown in my wife’s belly, the submerged sign of a prophecy burning, stretching taut her hard bulge: All hair, just like the others, gone wrong again.”

Raw, vicarious, exploratory, creative, unique, and with a voracious sense of human emotion -the passages, throughout my reading of them, have continued to exhaust me with the density of these qualities. Alongside these qualities, the book has also managed to hold onto what many avant-garde authors tend to lose – a sense of connectedness to reality. When reading, the reader never feels alienated, distanced, or disconnected, but instead has the capacity to latch onto every wrenching moment, every challenge and conflict. Every story is more than a journey, it is an odyssey cramped and boxed into a few pages and slammed into your mind via an IV: direct, potent, and most of all – powerful.

Get a hold of this, somehow, someway. You won’t regret it, even if your schedule keeps you from being able to get past the first story, for you will have felt enough by then to last yourself for years.

Caustic Romanticism

Isaac Dwyer reviews the debut translation of Juliusz Slowacki’s drama of a romantic youth in the Warsaw insurrection.

Juliusz Słowacki, tr. Gerald T. Kapolka. Kordian. Chicago, IL. 2012. 144 pages. $20.00 ISBN 978-1-4507-4208-5

Juliusz Słowacki’s drama Kordian tells the tale of a disgruntled fifteen year old who, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt, travels across Europe in a romantic attempt to find both love and purpose. Kordian, our hero, finds this purpose when he becomes a larger player and leader of the Polish November Insurrection  of 1831. Słowacki’s play is commonly credited as being the most influential in Polish theatre history—despite the fact that during Słowacki’s life, he spent most of his time writing poetry—and, until the wonderful translator Gerard T. Kapolka and Green Lantern Press came along, had never before been translated into English. After seeing the press release, I was enraptured, being a bit of a theatre nerd myself, as well as a fan of all things Eastern European (despite knowing next to nothing about its literary history), and while reading it, I was not disappointed in the slightest.

The book itself comes with a screen-printed cover and illustrations by Aay Preston-Myint, whose powerfully monochromatic characters, such as ones displaying Kordian’s terror and imagination, manage to summon from the reader both a comfortable curiosity and a repelling sense of mystery. The language itself is colorfully romantic, with Kapolka’s translation of Słowacki’s verse calling forth with ease both senses of hilarity and revulsion. When our darling, and pitifully cute adolescent Kordian makes an attempt to woo an Italian enchantress, Violetta (who eventually leaves Kordian after he accidentally tosses her off of his horse), he offers delightfully embellished lyrics such as “So when you cast/A languishing glance, I wilt, fall, and faint;/Just so the golden butterfly will die/After feasting on the oversweet rose;/But one glance from your sparkling eyes drives me mad!/So I’ll come to life for the length of a kiss.” The comical nature of his starry-eyed promulgations is executed with both scholarly and artistic precision in Kapolka’s translation.

Kapolka again proves his salt, this time with darker lyrics, when, in a discourse with Czar Nicholas, Grand Duke Constantine summons a cartridge of poisonous words after he is accused of betraying Russia in favor of the Poles:

“You call me a murderer, My Czar?/I’ll shove those words right down your throat!/Can you stomach the secret you have swallowed?/You think I used a sword to pierce her heart?/Perhaps I will rip out your heart as well!/ Perhaps I shot her in the head? Well then/I might decorate the walls with your brains!”

Below the dynamic and pithy lyric that Kapolka has dutifully translated, he has also provided a fantastic collection of notes, concisely instructing the reader on Polish history and society, Greek mythology, and biblical references.

This pleasantly scholarly and artistically translated book serves not only as an effective lesson in history and literary culture, but also as a fascinating, and truly enjoyable read.

 

Toddlers, Coloring Books, and Tiaras

Rebecca Cox confronts gender roles with her younger brother over Jacinta Bunnell’s coloring book.

Jacinta Bunnell. Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon. Oakland, CA. 2010. ISBN 978-1604863291
Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon

Recently, a family member was confronted with an odd request for a niece’s Christmas gift. The constraint, though she felt it was completely warranted, eliminated most popular toys, books, and movies. Her sister-in-law had asked that she purchase a gift that was, “genderless.” Having recently looked through the pages of the coloring book Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon, a book written by Jacinta Bunnell with the intention of providing parents with a vehicle with which they may discourage the establishment of gender roles among young children, I suggested the book as a gift for her niece. Realizing that most of the content would be lost on the three-year-old child, I decided to experiment with my slightly older four-year-old brother, Mark.

Sitting cross-legged in the center of my living room with the sound of Modern Warfare Three humming in the back round, I removed the coloring book from my bag. Enamored with the sound of guns and falling helicopters, Mark did not at first seem interested in the book. I asked him if he wanted a present, then handed him the pink and purple covered activity. He did not immediately dismiss it, but asked me who the people on the cover were. We began to flip the pages and he laughed at the silly illustrations of dancing monsters. I found a page I thought was fitting, captioned with, “Enough war, tonight we dance,” and asked Mark what was happening in the drawing. He immediately said, “He has a sword,” ignoring the disco ball and the boy with a large afro.

Watching as he flipped through the pages of the book, laughing at the odd depictions of princes and monsters, I realized that Mark had a few of his fingernails painted. I asked him why he painted his nails, to which he responded, “Because I wanted them to be pretty.” My brother has been raised in quite a conservative household; it was odd to me that my father should allow him to paint his nails. I had often heard my father say to him, “Mark, those are for girls,” in response to his asking for certain items like heeled shoes. From this experience with Mark I came to the conclusion that I do agree with the author that gender roles are forced upon children, but the book’s implication that children fall into those roles only when influenced I must disagree with.

Accompanying the many hilarious illustrations is a page of questions which many adults may have some difficulty answering. This book is taking a step forward by exposing children to images of both boys and girls engaging in interesting and genderless activities, though I feel it was ineffective in its purpose do to the fact that children confronted with the book would not understand the message. This book takes on a relevant topic. Jacinta Bunnell has raised questions that I do not usually think about. This book could be a great tool in the fight against disempowering gender rules.

 

Missing Out On the Grotesque

Isaac Dwyer dissects the downfalls (and merits) of Nick Blinko’s novel, The Primal Screamer.

Nick Blinko. The Primal Screamer. Oakland, CA. 2012. 122 pages. $14.95 ISBN 978-1-60486-331-4.

Rearing his avant-garde head from a sea of psychological torture and anarchy, Nick Blinko, of the eighties British punk band Rudimentary Peni, has constructed a semi-autobiographical tale accompanied by his own bizarrely intriguing pen drawings.  In The Primal Screamer, the story follows the transformation of Nat Snoxell from a quiet yet tormented soul into a still tormented, still suicidal but at least almost-famous punk-rock star that manages to survive the adolescent merry-go-round. Told through Nat’s psychiatrist, Dr. Rodney H. Dweller’s journal, the story’s plot is delightfully rich and the images and events described in Dweller’s journal entries intriguing and fanatical. However, a majority of the actual prose of the book lacks the macabre poetics that the plot sets up the reader to expect.

The book begins with a telling of Nat’s first visit to Dweller’s office, where he ends up after a nearly successful suicide. The reader is intrigued by the mere shock value of the situation, and continues to read the descriptions of the various lengths Nat has gone to, including using the jaw bone of a dead animal to slash his veins. Searching to rattle his readers, Blinko goes on to write that, “Nat had hacked away at his wrists but, he claimed, become too bored with the murderous task to finish the job. Lacking this passion, he had returned home, where his mother found him when she got back from her part-time work.” Who wouldn’t keep reading about someone who finds suicide as boring as watching paint dry?

After the initial fascination, however, the reader’s interest begins to wane — as much of the rest of the book is written in a detached first-person that makes the reader flatly disinterested. While the plot that the narrator describes appears to be interesting, the format handicaps the reader’s ability to truly enjoy the bizarre images being described. Instead of constructing prose that incites the reader to feel the intensity of the imagism, the writing relies instead upon goofily bolding any word that Blinko hopes will make it sound important:

“Nat’s fantasy fear here was that an evil nun lurked menacingly behind a tree, waiting for him. We found no such thing, so Nat pointed out that the towering trees had faces in their branches.”

While having a tree populated by nun faces is cool, weighing it down with bolded text and detached prose makes it lamer than a donkey with laminitis. To its credit, however, the book nearly makes up for it all with the final journal entry, which describes a torturous dream of Dweller’s:

“A grotesque with a hollowed out head and titanic green fungus sprouting vigorously, visibly growing where the brains should have been, was shuffling among us. Creatures of predatory inclinations snapped at the morbid growths; indeed, all and sundry soon partook of the pickings.”

Perhaps if Blinko were to write a novel of surrealist nightmares, it’d be worth picking up before bed for a little roller-coaster ride through hell. As for The Primal Screamer, nick a copy from a friend to read the last six pages and look at the pretty drawings of malformed fetuses, leichenwagens, and distorted heads being strangled by ribcages.

Mr. Fox

Ruth Ruiz sees more than a cliche love story in Helen Oyeyemi’s novel, Mr. Fox.

Helen Oyeyemi, Mr. Fox. Riverhead Hardcover. 2011. 336 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 978-1594488078

Everyone knows what a love story is. Helen Oyeyemi, however, takes what everyone knows and shapes it into something different in her novel, Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox, an American novelist, is confronted with his imaginary muse, Mary Foxe, when she steps out of his head and into the real world. Together they take on their own stories, creating nine variations. Helen does a magnificent job exploring the depths of the human mind and the feelings that arise when one is accepting a fate they did not deem possible.

Anyone can argue that this is just another cliché love story, and in fact, when I first opened the book, I believed the same. Yet the second you start reading, actually reading, you will be sucked into this wondrous world alongside both Mary and Mr. Fox. Whether you are standing alongside Mary at a florist shop or watch as Reynardine chooses and kills his victims, you will not be able to put this book down. Oyeyemi does an amazing job portraying the feelings and thoughts that humans face on a daily basis.

Following both Mr. Fox and Mary proves to be quite a challenge at some points, due in part to the nine variations of their stories. Some of them might be more appealing than others, but nonetheless all should be read and thoroughly enjoyed. Each of them contributes to the growth of both characters. Though it may seem that “What Happens Next” is more enjoyable than the story about the little boys who go to a school to become “world class husbands,” they are both essential to the plot and to the emotional growth of the characters.

Helen Oyeyemi provides the readers with an excellent love story and the obstacles faced when two people from opposite sides of the tracks, in the most literal sense, come together. Follow Mr. Fox as Mary challenges the way he thinks and writes. Look into the mind of Mr. Fox as he realizes that the love he has for his wife is more than he had ever imagined. Engage in the love triangle between a husband, a wife and an imaginary woman. Let the emotions wash over you as Mr. Fox and Mary discover their newfound emotions, and watch in awe as the entire story plays out right in front of your eyes.