Reviews

Friday Reads: December 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA

 

Last month, we launched Issue 24, which features wispy, ethereal poems, striking watercolors of the Stebbins Cold Canyon flora and fauna, stories about resilience in the face of war and natural disaster, and essays that celebrate humor and heritage. Wondering what our contributors are reading to keep themselves inspired? Look no further than this month’s Friday Reads.

 

Book Cover of Meet Us by the Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy. Abstract drawings on black background.

Friday Reads: December 2022
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Present Tense Machine: A Review

By GUNNHILD ØYEHAUG (Translated from the Norwegian by KARI DICKSON)

Reviewed by OLGA ZILBERBOURG

 

Book cover of Present Tense Machine by Gunnhild Oyehaug

Laura is expecting a baby. A twenty-four-year-old literature instructor, she lives with her partner Karl Peter in the heart of Bergen, a city in the westernmost part of Norway. She’s suffering from a strange sort of anxiety, which she suspects has something to do with the pregnancy: everything around her seems double, not quite like what it is.

Laura has more common anxieties as well, including a problem with her apartment. The buildings in her part of town are constructed of brick on the outside and wood inside, which makes them so flammable that they’re called “chimney houses.” If their chimney house were to catch on fire, there would be little chance of escape. Then, there are the noisy students living above and below, a drug dealer across the street, hypodermic needles littering the neighborhood. She decides that she and Karl Peter have to move before the baby comes, but this decision, too, seems to bring her nothing but anxiety.

Present Tense Machine: A Review
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Friday Reads: November 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA

 

We launched Issue 24 last week, which features an exciting medley of writing: pieces about journalists and translators, forest fires and traveling icebergs, ghosts, cousins, and parents. Wondering what our contributors are reading? Check out their book recommendations below: 

Friday Reads: November 2022
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Friday Reads: October 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA


As the weather gets cooler and rainier, you may find yourself looking to spend time indoors with a good book and a steaming cup of tea. In this installment of Fridays Reads, we bring you exciting book recommendations from two of our volunteer readers, which dwell on dark, absurd, and solitary experiences. 

Image of Caren Beilin's book cover: an expressionist painting of a girl and a cat wearing green.

Caren Beilin’s Revenge of the Scapegoat, recommended by Grace Ezra (reader)

“The sun develops as it ends. The color gets so stabby.”

Hard and luminous, Revenge of the Scapegoat scowls as the reader delights. Beilin has set out to examine the expression, cultivation, and inheritance of the scapegoat’s situation, not shying away from the unyielding responsibility of the role. Not only is this novel undoubtedly accomplished, Revenge of the Scapegoat had me laughing myself feral.

Beilin’s narrator, Iris, is working as an adjunct at an arts college while toiling with her husband, Joe (an alcoholic who insists that the road to sobriety has been paved by microdosing heroin) and a recent diagnosis of autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis at only thirty-six years old. Her two feet seem to be most affected by the pain, affectionately named Bouvard and Pécuchet after the title characters of Flaubert’s posthumous novel (“the only one lit majors and bookstore owners read”). Iris’s chummy feet quickly become major characters in the story; they exercise dignity and concern as well as good humor. The two fall into asides about history and literature, compelling the reader to group the pair with the other eccentric artists that make Revenge of the Scapegoat such a gratifying indulgence in the absurd.

I haven’t even gotten to the part of the book that thrills and sets the story to motion. Iris receives a collection of letters written to her by her father in which he ascribes heaps of cyclical family trauma to her. The first time that she received these letters was when she was a teenager, though Beilin makes it clear that the inauguration of the family scapegoat happens in childhood. Iris (as alter ego “Vivitrix”) clears off to the Pennsylvania countryside, where she’s employed by a stirring gallerist and apathetic widow, Caroline, and her “Heathcliffish” son, Matthew. There are also heart-stepping cows, but I’ll save all of that magic for the actual read.

Revenge of the Scapegoat was a transference for me: not an escape, but that rare book that takes you somewhere completely new, strange, and fantastic. It would normally be a big ask for a book to take me “in that fetid twilight marinade refusing suicide barking at peaches in a pact with the unrevealed,” but for Beilin, she can serve it up with potency and pleasure.

 

Image of the cover of Vladimir Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading, writing on plain, beige background with the words, "a novel by the author of Lolita" at the bottom.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, recommended by Tyler Hayes (reader)

“I have no desires, save the desire to express myself—in defiance of all the world’s muteness.” 

Invitation by Vladimir Nabokov follows the surreal—but not unfamiliar—events following the trial and indictment of one Cincinnatus C., an intelligent but quiet man. While imprisoned with him, we meet laconic guards, pernicious spies, and even butterflies. We learn that he has been charged with nothing more than “gnostical turpitude,” and that the punishment is death by decapitation. 

In the end, Nabokov’s achievement here is in dispelling the notion that we can transcend absurd performance—let alone find joy—in the presence of those who don’t understand us. His deployment of incisive, subtle duplicity, which manifests as both humor and pathos, is virtually unmatched at this word count. Read it as both cause and cure for solitude.

Friday Reads: October 2022
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Review: June Gervais’s Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair

By SUSAN SCARF MERRELL

cover of June Gervais's jobs for girls with artistic flair

Rarely is a book as delightful as June Gervais’s debut novel, Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair, a story of people who do their best to be better and then fail and try again with courage and integrity. These characters cannot be dismissed or ignored, because they don’t give up. The novel is about belief: in one’s self, in others, and in the future. These days, such belief can be a difficult emotion to muster, so Gervais’s success in this regard is even more laudable.

The novel takes place in the mid-1980s in the fictional Long Island town of Blue Claw, somewhere near the location of Riverhead, New York. The novel’s time period is one that, until recently, I might have considered to be post-feminist. Women could have it all, we were told, and most of us believed it. Our innocence, or naiveté, had yet to be dashed. But Gina Mulley, the main character of Gervais’s novel, is another case entirely—she exists in a world without labels like feminism. 

Review: June Gervais’s Jobs for Girls with Artistic Flair
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Friday Reads: September 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA

For our September round of Friday Reads, we spoke to two TC contributors, who recommended vibrant prose that leaps off the page and compelling poetry that transcends linguistic barriers while echoing with the sound of home.

Cover of Per Petterson’s Men in My Situation, depicting a car covered in snow, a street light, and a dark sky.

Friday Reads: September 2022
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Unwarranted Reticence: A Review of Eleanor Wilner’s GONE TO EARTH

Reviewed by TERESE SVOBODA

Image of the cover of Gone to Earth: a woman sitting on a stool with mountains in the background.

Eleanor Wilner, a recipient of the 2019 Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry and MacArthur-winner, had to be coaxed to publish her first collection at age 42. Arthur Vogelsang, her co-editor at the American Poetry Review, “threatened various forms of physical harm if I failed to follow through.” Her reluctance, she says, was “probably a universal fear of rejection but intensified by a woman’s trained reluctance to put her own work forward.” The skid marks in resisting publication, even in Gone to Earth: Early and Uncollected Poems 1963-1975, Wilner’s ninth book of poetry, are further evidence of such modesty. On the acknowledgments page, Wilner includes an excerpt from a poem by her then-young daughter, begging her mother to publish. This is followed by “To the Reader,” a note which assures readers that the poems “belonged to the realm of imagination and not to the world of opinion,” then an italicized eight-line epigraph ending with “she much preferred / what she could not afford: / the luxury of words and light,” and a prelude poem, “Ritual,” set in prehistoric Africa, mourning the muse, “the blackened stone / that once poured fire from its heart.” Only then, a page later, does the book begin, all poems fully fledged.

Unwarranted Reticence: A Review of Eleanor Wilner’s GONE TO EARTH
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Fire of Love: A Review

Film by SARA DOSA

Review by HANNAH GERSEN

Fire of Love Poster

You don’t expect a documentary about volcanos to begin in freezing temperatures, but in the first scenes of Sara Dosa’s enthralling new feature, Fire of Love, married volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft struggle to free a jeep mired in icy slush. Farther down the road is a fiery pool of molten lava. Much later in the film, they trudge through the gray ash of a recently erupted Mount St. Helens, a setting that looks cold even though it is baking hot. Both landscapes seem unreal, even with Maurice and Katia in the frame. Their footage is so remarkable that I would have watched a 90-minute slide show of their photographs. Fire of Love is much more than that, but the film and photo archive is at the heart of the story, and it’s where Dosa looks for clues as she tells the story of the Kraffts’ career, one that was inseparable from their romantic partnership.

Fire of Love: A Review
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Friday Reads: August 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA

Is your summer to-be-read list getting sparse? Check out these exciting reading recommendations by TC’s latest contributors, including vibrant poetry that explores identity and relation and two novels that dwell on strange encounters and liminal places. 

 

Image of Maya Marshall's poetry collection: woman in a white slip with a blond afro and animal mask.

Maya Marshall’s All the Blood Involved in Love, recommended by Susanna Lang (Contributor)

Those of us already familiar with Maya Marshall’s poetry have wanted to see a collection for years, and her debut, All the Blood Involved in Love (Haymarket, 2022), is worth the wait. There are many poets writing now who focus on their identity, but they do not all have access to such rich language that lifts the concerns linked to her identity—Black, female, queer—to the level of poetry. 

Friday Reads: August 2022
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Friday Reads: July 2022

Curated by SOFIA BELIMOVA

This round of Friday Reads brings you mini book reviews from The Common’s Literary Publishing Interns. From shapeshifting professors to self-deprecating travelers, these reading recommendations will enliven your summer TBR list, whether you curl up with a book in the sunshine or cool off somewhere in the shade.

Friday Reads: July 2022
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