The book is beautifully presented, with hand drawn illustrations, photographs, quotations, and facts about the different animals in the book and the events that inspired them, particularly the 2019/20 Australian bushfires, which were particularly devastating in Smuhar’s Blue Mountains hometown and which had some an intense impact on Australian flora and fauna (for example, some 60,000 koalas were negatively impacted by the fires). Smuhar’s goal with this book is not only to raise funds, but to entertain and educate.
Dr. Rosenfeld’s novel is informative and interesting on the subjects of Judaism, Psychology, and same sex relationships. I was charmed by Rachel’s envisioning of God as a woman angel whose patchwork wings are made up of one’s glimpses of the divine. Another excellent idea is presented in the novel – that after a break-up, a woman should buy herself a ring to symbolize her commitment to herself as her own best friend.
Skillman employs many references to transportation – trains, mostly, but other kinds too. In the introductory poem we get our first train reference, when the grandmother is counting beats for her own personal waltz: “Always the counting beneath the whistles of trains/ running westward from the town of no money.” (from My Grandmother’s Waltz, p. 18). The train here is ghost-like. It brings a nagging fear of having to escape poverty.
Between the images, the recollections, the references, the correspondences and the longing, a new kind of story emerges – one that allows the the gaps in the narrative to remain unknown. Aitken doesn’t find the “key to a past the will grant…a thousand and one narratives” (“Stolen Valour”). Instead he finds questions that become Koans, a pathway to a greater truth.
Throughout the collection, Young depicts the demimonde of women in the midst of affairs of the heart, neither fish nor fowl, but mostly foul; at least, fraught with emotional turmoil. This is captured so succinctly in “Postcards from the Floating World,” a series of four haiku that all begin similarly: “I cry out. His words”; “I cry out. His eyes”; “I cry out. His lips”; “I cry out. His hands / claw fierce, wild, deeper than pain / cradling my face.” The balance between pleasure and pain is a constant seesaw.
Letters in Language is a powerful collection: vibrant, sexy, sad, and very smart. The poems are dense, but also full of play, open space for reader interpretation, and steeped in cultural and literary references. As with all memoir, it is the exploration of a life, but is also an exploration of poetry, the way in which language itself creates reality and history, and very nature of the literary form.
Despite being a novel that deals with serious issues plaguing American society, it gives the impression that one is reading a lighter text because the author uses humor so well. That’s partly because the humor embedded within the title The Eggplant Curse and the Warp Zone anchors the text. The characters the narrator seems to make fun of are never turned into buffoons, dehumanized but respected for their humanity. This allows the reader to have unwavering empathy with the central character.
In many of these poems, what begins as a hyper-local calamity–in an alley, a travel lodge, a club–transmogrifies in Mr. Merrill’s hands into sentences where what comes next is determined to flush the subject straight out of its just-tamped-down bed in the tall grass. The reader is shocked into vigilance, which gradually becomes a kind of acute reciprocity, an attention that is not easily achieved in our daily lives.
The author’s style is simple and straightforward, and her use of highly descriptive prose generates excellent dialog and tantalizingly paints her characters as well as the tumultuous events in which they participate. I particularly enjoyed the alliterative flourishes: (“tawny tangy dancing woman”; “she senses sin and shame standing sentry”; “maggoty men”); the challenging vocabulary: (“termagants”; “tumescently proud”); and plastic descriptions: (“fish belly pale inner forearm”; “moon whipped water”; “soda bottle eye glasses”; “ the barbed wires of consolation”).
While this memoir chronicles what the author refers to as her “brokenness” as a result of what she endured, it really is a story of healing. Writing this book was a very big part of that process for Ouellette. “Maybe healing, when it happens, is the result of a quantum entanglement, the swirling of a thousand winds. Maybe it comes when you give your daughter your own heart like another stuffed toy she will drag with her everywhere…”