Review of Grant Maierhofer’s FLAMINGOS

Grant Maierhofer. Itna Press, $14 paperback (188p) ISBN: 9780991219698

Grant Maierhofer’s Flamingos rings with electricity. In his iteration of what a novel should be, Maierhofer dives into the lives of his characters, revealing their inner nature. Within this story, a host of characters have been subject to therapy, rehab, and hospitalizations for various, yet unknown, reasons – this book is their journalistic musings of life in the current moment. The characters are singular, vibrant in the details we are given of their lives, and more so the inner workings of their minds and thoughts. The ambiguity of their situations transcends our view of the conventional novel; it transposes upon us a kind of diary – something so intimate and personal it shakes us, as readers, down to our very cores.
A common theme among the characters is the displeasure of integrating into society, and pressures pressed upon them. The demands from a culture that does not cater to these characters draws upon the unnerving fear of never entirely belonging: “What you might do as a young human animal is fail, or succeed. Neither matters, but both have their time and place above a slow-poured cup of gas station brittle” (45).  Nihilistic in ways, Maierhofer perpetuates the idea that everything these characters do or have done might not really matter. With undercurrents of intelligence mixed with a power-driven desire to make sense of it all, Maierhofer’s characters reflect the inner battles that plague many readers.

Review of Sara Moore Wagner’s HOOKED THROUGH

Sara Moore Wagner. Five Oaks Press, $14 paperback ISBN: 9781944355258

To explain death and love to children, adults often use folklore, myths, fairy tales. In telling these stories, adults teach themselves as well. Hooked Through is a mother’s beautiful, emotional, and at times grotesque attempt to explain the suicide of a close family member to her child and herself. This short collection is full of deep, mysterious grief. Reading these poems truly makes you feel hooked, lifted, and raw.
     The collection begins with a narrative anchor in “Like a Fish”, where the speaker is in the hospital with a loved one who has recently shot himself. Suddenly the wound becomes visible behind the bandage, but the speaker must ignore this ugly reality and instead tell the nurse a story:

He hammered my mother’s
wedding ring out of a quarter,
I say, because I don’t know
what to look at. Too many
rings and hooks. Too many.

Death turns us all into fishes,
green and gasping.


An Aorta with Branches: A Travelogue
Deborah Wood. Sunnyoutside Press, $12 hand-bound chapbook (32p) ISBN: 978-1-934513-56-9

In this beautifully crafted poetry chapbook, the speaker begins with an idea of a beginning, a starting over, and, early on, slips in perhaps the finest October simile this reader has ever come across: “October is like hugging in sweaters.” Readers are taken on a road trip of two companions that, given the order of the titles/locations, appears to move from California to New York. Surprising sentences populate the work, such as this line from the opening poem: “Some days I believe the world is flat, wish the day/was full of only useless things, remember I am/only a number, that flowers fall out of fashion.” And sensory treats abound like “...and all of a sudden the car/smells of onions.” There’s a recurrence of the idea that “things are happening”, internally and externally, and there’s also a spiritual frustration in which “...we cannot close the gap/between ourselves and things.”  The speaker notes that our desire for simplicity is frequently clouded by our want to complicate, sharply stating: “But the simple explanation is not always/the one we want.” This brief and dynamic work of making maps, making a new life, and moving forward is sure to delight readers while also leaving them wanting more. (March 2017)

“Terrible Things Await You” Review of Cavolo and McClanahan’s THE INCANTATIONS OF DANIEL JOHNSTON

The Incantations of Daniel Johnston
Ricardo Cavolo and Scott McClanahan. Two Dollar Radio, $17.95 paperback (132p) ISBN: 9781937512453

     The other day I saw a documentary on Darius McCollum, a man with Asperger syndrome who’s been imprisoned nineteen times for impersonating employees of the New York City Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). McCollum had no malicious intentions with these MTA impersonations, he just really, really wanted to conduct buses and trains. Since he was a kid, McCollum has been obsessed with the landscapes of rails and roads, the experience of moving from one space into the next. He’s memorized schedules and maps, “borrowed” uniforms, practiced and mastered the language of a world which, for him, is magical. For McCollum, the world of transit is so magical its wonder overshadows all threat of arrest, overpowers all self preservation.
     His mind makes this world so beautiful: channels of movement and bodies and sound wherein everyone has a place and a role and each thing is connected.
     His mind makes this world so dangerous: tunnels of darkness, desire so powerful that he repeats his mistakes—taking crazy risks—just to be part of it.

Review of Christopher Kang’s WHEN HE SPRANG FROM HIS BED…

Christopher Kang. Green Mountains Review Press, $15 paperback (141p) ISBN: 978-0-9963342-3-5

Despite or because of their brevity, the 880 tiny hard-to-categorize pieces that fill these pages demand our attention. With shifting POVs and a hybrid blend of poetry and prose, the pieces (which are titled by number) contain a range of the unattainable where feelings and acts are often represented as objects. Confusion, for example, is a tangible thing to be left somewhere, and a confession can be pried open and explored. In “538”, “He uncovers in the crisis a smooth and flat layer of apathy.” Kang’s superb writing lends a real physicality to human experience, bending and enhancing the reader’s perception. Longer pieces, though no single piece ever fills a page, allow for a broader range of movement, as in “15” which begins with a sudden death and then ends with an image of a severed hand providing nutrients to a plant. Recurring themes such as loss—violence and the suggestion of violence abound early on—and memory are depicted, often beautifully and with great surprise. “457”: “After her death, he stands naked in front of the mirror and imagines she is hiding behind him.” While each piece exists as a standalone, Kang’s slow and careful tone provides cohesion, his words shining spotlights down hallways of self, showing how we learn, fear, and build. These pieces are sharp verses in a song of shape and motion, of the making of human moments, of the setting and spirit of human lives. Categorically elusive, this stunning work is best known by experiencing it. “64”: “He lies motionless in the rain. A train approaches and roars. He is dreaming of everything.” (February 2017)

“To duplicate and to be duplicitous” Review of James Tadd Adcox’s REPETITION

James Tadd Adcox. Cobalt Press, $10 paperback (65p) ISBN: 978-1941462171

            When writing my academic letters of interest, I almost always use a basic, self-made template. Within this template, there is a paragraph whose details shiftever-so slightlyto strategically recalibrate this portrait of myself as an academic. With a few performative clicks of the keys, selective liberal arts college becomes research institution, the phrase diversity becomes polyvocality, and the name of some press or some magazine shifts to some craftily emphasized other. I am the puppet master of this bullshit theater of myself: hovering, pulling, snipping strings to my own dancing simulacra!
            Such is the absurd performative tapestry of James Tadd Adcoxs Repetition, a devastatingly honest and humorous novella. Framed from the fictional but excruciatingly realistic perspective of an aspiring (untenured) Assistant Professor, Repetition follows his account of a conference dedicated to Constantin Constantius, the fictional performance of a real philosopher (aka the pseudonym of Søren Kierkegaard.) Herein, academias hierarchies, rituals, and unspoken rules of engagement are beautifully deconstructed, all within the context (as we later learn) of the narrators necessary recollection, his repetitive reconstruction of events.

Review of Matthew Vollmer’s GATEWAY TO PARADISE

Gateway to Paradise
Matthew Vollmer. Persea Books, $10.35 paperback (184p) ISBN: 978-0892554669

Matthew Vollmer’s short story collection Gateway to Paradise is a gateway into lives veering off course, from a teenager unwittingly pulled into a homicide to a father struggling to keep his family together while under house arrest. Through their often surreal predicaments, the collection explores a universal dilemma in surprising and memorable ways.
     In “Downtime,” a dentist tries desperately to move on from the death of his wife, who is not cooperating. In “Dog Lover,” a woman admits to a radio show host that she has more in common with her dog than her husband, and decides to put her theory to the test. In “Scoring,” a teacher is seduced by a nail-buffing woman at the mall while attending the AP readings miles away from his wife and family, only to find that what the woman wants goes way beyond a quickie in the fitting room.
     All of the characters in the collection are stuck in the awkward space between the physical and sublime, and Vollmer’s deft and powerful writing drives this home. The dentist is haunted not only by his wife, but by “Mouths—where bacteria flourished, where puffy gums bled at the slightest touch, where teeth had been worn down to little eraser-sized nubs, and where incomprehensively fat tongues slapped against his rubber-gloved fingers.” At the same time, he confesses that mouths, “after all, had saved him.” In the title story, the main character finds a Happy Meal box “nestled like a gaudy temple among a bed of ferns,” only to discover “somebody’s turd” inside. She sees “Amish boys with bowl cuts fervently tonguing soft-serve cones.”