All posts tagged: reviews

Review: Insomnia by John Kinsella

Book by JOHN KINSELLA
Review by NICHOLAS BIRNS

Cover of Insomnia by John Kinsella

Insomnia, the latest of the many volumes of poetry John Kinsella has published, is one of his strongest collections of the past decade. Kinsella is an Australian poet, now in his late fifties, who is at once one of the most widely recognized figures in contemporary poetry yet still too little known in some literary quarters. He is abundantly and buoyantly prolific, both on his own and with collaborators of many backgrounds and affiliations. He is at once committed to experimental, avant-garde styles and to a decolonizing, anti-racist, in his words ‘vegan anarchist’ politics. There is a third commitment that nestles aside these two, although less trumpeted: a participation in a lyric tradition and a lyric kind of ‘truth,’ the manifold, irreducible, unformalizable sort of truth Goethe (who would have enjoyed the poems in Insomnia placed in Tübingen) imagined when he spoke of Dichtung und Wahrheit (poetry and truth).

Review: Insomnia by John Kinsella
Read more...

Friday Reads: August 2021

Curated by ELLY HONG

For our August round of Friday Reads, we spoke to three alums of The Common’s Literary Publishing Internship. Their recommendations delve into trauma, failure, and purposelessness, but all include notes of hope.

Friday Reads: August 2021
Read more...

Friday Reads: July 2021

Curated by ELLY HONG

In our July edition of Friday Reads, two TC interns and one volunteer reader recommend transportive summer reading, ranging from a novel about a trip to Greece to a good old-fashioned western. Read onward for discussions of a braided Faulkner novel, a flâneur novelist, and two cowboys down on their luck.

Recommendations: If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem by William Faulkner, Outline by Rachel Cusk, Hanging Woman Creek by Louis L’Amour.

Friday Reads: July 2021
Read more...

May 2021 Friday Reads: Issue 21 Contributors

Curated by ISABEL MEYERS

We’re celebrating a successful spring issue launch by showcasing book recommendations from our Issue 21 contributors. Their picks, which range from a poetry collection exploring Latino identity to a memoir documenting incarceration in the 1850s, are diverse in form yet collectively poignant and timely. Make sure to read the April installment of Friday Reads, featuring more picks from our Issue 21 contributors, and pick up a copy of the spring issue.

May 2021 Friday Reads: Issue 21 Contributors
Read more...

Review: Not For Nothing: Glimpses Into a Jersey Girlhood by Kathy Curto

By CARLA ZANONI 

Cover of Not for Nothing by Kathy Curto

Kathy Curto’s memoir, Not for Nothing: Glimpses Into A Jersey Girlhood, is a dynamic and bittersweet retelling of the author’s childhood in which she seeks to understand and reconcile the inner workings of her family while lifting the veil of the American dream. The book, Curto’s first, is told through a series of 52 loosely-connected humorous and poignant vignettes. It takes a close look at her Italian-American family, from behind closed doors as well as in the eyes of the southern New Jersey community around them.

Review: Not For Nothing: Glimpses Into a Jersey Girlhood by Kathy Curto
Read more...

April 2021 Friday Reads

Curated by ISABEL MEYERS

Amidst the warmer days and rainy weather, we at The Common are busy preparing to release our spring issue. In this month’s Friday Reads, we’re hearing from our Issue 21 contributors on what books have been inspiring and encouraging them through the long, dark winter. Read their selections, on everything from immigration to embracing loneliness in pandemic times, and pre-order your copy of the upcoming issue here

 

Recommendations: The Poetry of Rilke by Rainer Maria Rilke, Transit by Anna Seghers, Stroke By Stroke by Henri Michaux, By the Lake by John McGahern.

April 2021 Friday Reads
Read more...

Friday Reads: March 2021

Curated by ISABEL MEYERS 

Here in Western Massachusetts, the harsh New England winter is gradually thawing, and our greyish snowbanks are melting into puddles. Meanwhile, our interns have returned to their spring semester classes and their work at The Common. This March, we’re hearing what’s propelled them through their long winter break toward a brighter and warmer spring. 

Recommendations: The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune, Elizabeth Costello by J. M. Coetzee, A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet

Friday Reads: March 2021
Read more...

Review: The Scent of Buenos Aires: Stories by Hebe Uhart

Book by HEBE UHART
Translated from the Spanish by MAUREEN SHAUGHNESSY
Reviewed by JASMINE V. BAILEY

Cover of The Scent of Buenos Aires

In Argentina, the short story is not what you write until you manage to write a novel; it is a lofty form made central by twentieth-century titans like Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges and Silvina Ocampo. The form has power and prestige in the broader region as well. Hebe Uhart was a product of that literary tradition and came of age as a writer when Cortázar and Borges were at the height of their fame and literary production. At the end of her life, Uhart was recognized by a lifetime achievement award from Argentina’s National Endowment for the Arts and by the international Manuel Rojas Iberian American Award for Literature. Though she produced many volumes, including two novels and several travelogues, she is known for her short stories. It is appropriate, then, that her first work to appear in English — The Scent of Buenos Aires — is a collection of short stories (translated from the Spanish by Maureen Shaughnessy).

Review: The Scent of Buenos Aires: Stories by Hebe Uhart
Read more...

Friday Reads: November 2020

Curated by ISABEL MEYERS

In the November installment of Friday Reads, our Issue 20 contributors reflect on the pedagogies of teaching over Zoom, the engines of colonialism, and the process of breaking down cultural divides. As the weather gets colder, curl up with one of these recommendations, and make sure to pick up your copy of Issue 20 today.

 

Recommendations: Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; Poems in the Manner Of… by David Lehman; The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion by Kei Miller; Reimagining Liberation: How Black Women Transformed Citizenship in the French Empire by Annette K. Joseph-Gabriel

 

Friday Reads: November 2020
Read more...

Review: Some Go Home by Odie Lindsey

Book by ODIE LINDSEY

Review by JULIA LICHTBLAU

Reading the three-page first chapter of Some Go Home, Odie Lindsey’s first novel and second book of fiction, I had the “hell, yeah” feeling I usually get after hearing a killer guitar solo. 

Colleen, a traumatized veteran of the Iraq war, freshly “classified as pregnant” by the Memphis VA hospital and deeply ambivalent, decides to climb on her roof to clear off tornado-blown branches. She will smoke, get stung by a yellowjacket, slip and fall on what turns out to be a nest of crushed baby squirrels, stomp the lone, doomed squirrel survivor, and finish clearing the roof, all while her mind fights the preposterous novelty of motherhood. 

The opening chapter’s funny-sad-tough portrait of no-kind-of lady morphs into an evocation of place—and the problem with this particular place, Pitchlynn, Mississippi:

She shut her eyes and listened to the tamped thump of hip-hop in the distance, and knew that just across the county road a group of boys communed around an old car with a new stereo… Black or White boys, or maybe both, cutting up and ditching school, doing the same thing their fathers had done, beneath the same scab of sun, a different soundtrack on the radio. So went the narrative in rural north Mississippi. For them, for her, for everyone, forever.  

Pitchlynn is Colleen’s hometown, a place she left as a veteran and returned to, emotionally scarred from sexual assault, a past that gets its full due in the short story “Colleen,” from Lindsey’s collection, We Come to Our Senses. For readers like myself, whose mental map of the South is non-granular, the Mississippi state line is about fifteen miles south of Memphis.  

In Some Go Home, Lindsey, a Southerner and veteran, tackles the South and PTSD, two themes of We Come to Our Senses, in which race wasn’t a major focus. But here the South or Southern-ness encompasses White supremacy and PTSD harkens back to slavery. The novel is a complex orchestration of three non-chronological narratives told from multiple points of view. They don’t converge on a singular plot resolution. But they do sum up Pitchlynn. One rich family hanging onto most of the cards. Blacks and whites barely interacting, except via the prison system. Family ties that are, if anything, terrifying. 

Colleen’s narrative takes us through pregnancy and birth; detours back to her return from Iraq; self-medication; recovery; a raucous stint as a local beauty queen—the Strawberry Maiden; and the dogged, funny courtship of Derby, Colleen’s husband. Colleen’s antics and debates with herself over gender roles—though she’d never use such a fancy-ass professor term for headbutting—make her the most endearing character of the novel and the one I voted most likely to beat the past at its nasty game of holding a person down till they give up.

More witness than actor in the novel—and his life—Derby connects Colleen’s narrative to the other two. He wants to be a good husband and father to his twins, which is more ambitious than it sounds, given his heritage. His estranged father, Hare, an embittered veteran and sharecropper, is being re-tried for the murder of Gabe, a Black man, in 1964. Hare had earlier escaped conviction thanks to a hung jury and a passive prosecutor. 

Zig-zagging through time, the Gabe/Hare story takes us from Gabe’s grandfather, who bought his land after Reconstruction, to Gabe’s refusal to follow his wife and daughter north out of devotion to the land. We see the town gentry enlist Hare in a plot to take Gabe’s land for a country club with instructions to “do whatever it takes”; we see the run-up to the new trial through Doc, Gabe’s son-in-law and Hare’s prison guard, a role that torments Doc, as he tries to reconcile his function and his wife’s craving for justice for her father. Doc’s wife, too, suffers from PTSD. 

Although Hare claims to the end that he wasn’t the murderer, there’s no shortage of motive. 

Hare’s reward is his own land. 

After the first trial, Hare devoted himself to harassing Black neighbors and spurring drunk White men to a racist frenzy in front of a cinder block wall he and supporters constructed behind his house, making his backyard into a meeting ground, which he called a “Platz,” inspired by Nazi monuments he saw during his wartime service in Germany. This scene was Derby’s childhood. 

The Gabe/Hare saga is the most complex and fraught thread, by virtue of its dissection of racial brutality. It’s also the most beautifully written. In prose that reminded me of Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men, Lindsey deploys the nuances of dialect—poor white, rich white, poor black—to reveal the depravity of rich whites and the desperation of poor ones. Here’s Mr. Wallis, the town’s big man, needling Hare with the skill of a practiced torturer: 

“How’s that feel, Harold? Your dear wife, Syl, is still dressed in feed sack, like her mama would’ve worn? You boy startin’ the county school, instead of bein’ up to the new Christian academy with his own kind? My Susan George is in class there.” 

He moves on to flattery, before dangling the bait: “I’m suggesting you be awarded a bit more stake, for a bit more work. For instance, the ability to obtain some of your own land?”

Land is security, food, honor, pride. Gabe, a Black man, has all of that. Worse, Hare knows that his wife admires the man. 

Hare speaks in a humble, somewhat schooled way to his social betters. At home, he sounds like this: “They say, and I do. Then I say, and you do. Ain’t no way around it, lest you want to move again… Cause they ain’t but a handful of farms still left to work on shares.”

In a surreal side plot, Sonny, Hare’s son with Sylvia—aka Syl, his then-wife—flies down in a small plane from Chicago hoping to exculpate his father, but he crashes and slowly dies, hallucinating about his childhood. Sonny never talks, but we are privy to his memories, which reveal that in her desperation to leave Hare, Sylvia asked Gabe to drive her and Sonny to the train to Chicago, knowing her departure would give Hare a pretext to kill Gabe. 

The third thread centers on Derby’s boss, JP, who has moved with his infant daughter from Chicago to take over his late wife’s property, a mansion featuring a colossal magnolia with which the town hopes to brand itself as a destination. The mansion was moved from the old Wallis farm to make way for the country club after Gabe’s land was taken. JP’s provocative renovation plans pit him against his wife’s aunt Susan George Wallis—daughter of the odious Mr. Wallis—who drove her niece to suicidal depression by blaming her for the accidental death of her cousin. Susan has set herself up as the preserver of the town’s Southern charm. She is domineering, petty, short on self-knowledge, long on self-pity, and unable to empathize with her late niece or JP. JP’s need for retribution against Susan for her cruelty to his wife eventually drives him and Derby, who is committed to staying in the town, apart.                  

Some Go Home is a deep and complex book. The fractured structure makes it easy to miss clues. On first reading, the narratives seemed too condensed to me. I felt as if I were trying to piece together each character’s truth from incomplete impressions. But on re-reading, the missing pieces often turned up in unexpected places. A rich reward for an inattentive first reading, perhaps. 

Lindsey is in the scrum with the major Southern writers—from Faulkner on—seeking to understand the region’s pathologies and strengths. At the same time, this book feels very much of the moment in its frank depiction of poor whites (Hare is a proto-Trumpist, if there ever was one), as well as its treatment of woman veterans. Lindsey doesn’t paste a happy ending on any of his characters’ lives. But he does grant them moments of grace. Colleen, incurably restless soldier/mother, finds a way to leave without abandonment, and Derby, living “different, only in the exact same place, rehabbing family,” finds a non-toxic way of being Southern.

The book’s title is borrowed from a song by Jerry Jeff Walker, in which a singer who “can’t go home” observes, pities, and envies other people on a train who are going home. That train’s just movin’ on down the line/Leavin’ people who ever did fall behind/And I wanna begin somewhere/But for me there’s nothing true out there/So I go down the line.”

Pitchlynn is full of people like the ones in Walker’s song, falling behind, beginning again, doubting everything they do. Some leave, and some, like Colleen, make it home, for a while, anyway. 

 

Julia Lichtblau’s essays, criticism, and fiction have appeared in American Fiction, The American Scholar, Commonweal, The Common, Blackbird, Narrative, The Florida Review, and elsewhere. She was book review editor of The Common for seven years, taught writing about business and the economy at Drew University, and was a reporter and editor in New York and Paris for BusinessWeek and Dow Jones. She has an MFA in Fiction from Bennington College.

Review: Some Go Home by Odie Lindsey
Read more...