Sunday, May 17, 2020

NOBODY KNOWS HOW IT GOT THIS GOOD, startlingly good debut collection from a Southerner to watch

NOBODY KNOWS HOW IT GOT THIS GOOD: Short Stories from the Deep South

Livingston Press
$25.95 hardcover, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: Winner of the Tartt First Fiction Award

"A finely crafted collection that perfectly evokes a place and culture." - Kirkus Review

"He successfully combines the anarchic nihilism of Hunter S. Thompson with the deeper, exploratory writings of William Faulkner, identifying the cancers of his chosen corner of the American South and providing not solutions so much as requiems." - Kirkus Review

A used car salesman finds himself embattled with a local gang. A U.S. Census enumerator disappears in the Black Belt. A former Birmingham fire fighter is haunted by his involvement hosing peaceful protestors during the Civil Rights Movement. A riverboat captain recounts his time working for a mining company while sailing down the Black Warrior River. A newlywed couple’s honeymoon is botched by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. A lynching survivor tells the story of his near-death experience.

Through sixteen stories sharing common environments and characters drawing heavily on the author’s experiences growing up in central Alabama, Nobody Knows How It Got This Good explores themes of racial injustice, class, the Civil Rights Movement, environmental catastrophe, imprisonment, suburbanization, and the perennial themes of love, life and loss. Though set in the Deep South, these stories aspire with humor and pathos to address national dilemmas.

My Review:

As is my wont, I will use the time-honored and very efficient Bryce Method to view the stories as they come.

The Jaguars of Southtown permaybehaps it helps to know that the stories are Birmingham, Ala., in it splendid decaying fetor; I know some folk from there so I wasn't lost, but I can think of many who'd struggle with specific location anxiety, what am I missing?-itis. Page 18 contains a w-bomb. I'd hand this a 3.5-star rating for its cruelly clear eye on a particular Rabbit Angstrom-y man manqué.

Nobody Knows How It Got This Good says the Mayor at the opening of the shiny new Wal-Mart ("before they took out the hyphen") he's been courting for years. Offering the usual roll-overs of lowered taxes and people desperate for a paycheck, any paycheck, even one "you cash all three figures of" at the payday loan place. I promise you most of these good folk don't have bank accounts anymore, banks do not want this tiny little pie even if it's all to themselves. So the spiffy obsequies of opening the place lead the narrator to reflect that:
It was some kind of Mardi Gras meets Donner party.
The parking stall stripes were white as a grand wizard's starched bed sheets.
Pizitz even figures in the introductory page, a list of the retailers now gone from the world , done in by the class war on labor that killed Fairfield, Alabama. What rises when incomes fall, children? That's right, reactionary politics and social attitudes do! Gold star, Muffin, for remembering what happened to bring us to 2020.

Settling Down in Peckerwood

Miscreant Populations and Their Effects on Jim Crow Methodologies of Street Paving in the Industrial South

Birmingham Goddamn

Deepwater Horizon

Tilting at Windmills

Wells Fargo

Twenty-Six People Per Square Mile

Ave Maria Grotto

The Song of the Abyss Eater

The Last Suppers of Violent Men Executed by the State

When Christ Returns to a Slave State

Down the Black Warrior I Sailed to Byzantium

Last of the Old Guardsmen

Long Hot Summer of 2018

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

SHOGGOTHS IN BLOOM, multi-award-winning short stories in SF and Fantasy


Prime Books
$15.95 trade paper, available now


The Publisher Says: A compilation of short science fiction and fantasy from Elizabeth Bear—tales of myth and mythic resonance, fantasies both subtle and epic in tone; hard science fiction and speculations about an unknowable universe. This collection, showcasing Bear’s unique imagination and singular voice, includes her Hugo- and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning story “Tideline” and Hugo-winning novelette “Shoggoths in Bloom,” as well as an original, never-published story. Recipient of the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, the Locus Award, a World Fantasy, British Fantasy, and Philip K. Dick nominee, Bear is one of speculative fiction’s most acclaimed, respected, and prolific authors.

My Review:

As is my wont, I will use the time-honored and very efficient Bryce Method to view the stories as they come.


Sonny Liston Takes the Fall


The Something-Dreaming Game

The Cold Blacksmith

In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns

Orm the Beautiful

The Inevitable Heat Death of the Universe

Love Among the Talus

Cryptic Coloration

The Ladies

Shoggoths in Bloom

The Girl Who Sang Rose Madder


Gods of the Forge

Annie Webber

The Horrid Glory of Its Wings


The Leavings of the Wolf

The Death of Terrestrial Radio

Monday, May 11, 2020

THE LOST FACE: Best Science Fiction from Czechoslovakia

THE LOST FACE: Best Science Fiction from Czechoslovakia
(translated by Iris Urwin)
Out of print
Various prices


The Publisher Says: This outstanding collection of eight science fiction stories was written by Czechoslovakia's leading exponent of the genre, Dr. Josef Nesvadba, whose tales have never before been made available to American readers. The stories, which combine in intriguing proportions elements of science and fantasy, will be relished in their own right, and the fact that they are from a country whose science fiction is known to few Western readers should doubly enhance their appeal.

My Review:

As is my wont, I will use the time-honored and very efficient Bryce Method to view the stories as they come.

The Death of an Apeman (1970)

Expedition in the Opposite Direction (1964)

The Trial Nobody Ever Heard Of (1970)

The Lost Face (1964)

The Chemical Formula of Destiny (1964)

Inventer of His Own Undoing (1964)

Doctor Moreau's Other Island (1964)

In the Footsteps of the Abominable Snowman (1964)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

THE RIVALS & OTHER STORIES, a first-ever translation of Jonah Rosenfeld's stories from Yiddish by Rachel Mines

(tr. Rachel Mines)
Syracuse University Press
$24.95 trade paper, available now

SAVE 40% on all books with discount code 05SNOW23 now through December 31, 2023. (link above)

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: A major literary figure and frequent contributor to the Yiddish-language newspaper Forverts from the 1920s to the mid-1930s, Jonah Rosenfeld was recognized during and after his lifetime as an explorer of human psychology. His work foregrounds loneliness, social anxiety, and people's frustrated longing for meaningful relationships—themes just as relevant to today's Western society as they were during his era.

The Rivals and Other Stories introduces nineteen of Rosenfeld's short stories to an English-reading audience for the first time. Unlike much of Yiddish literature that offers a sentimentalized view of the tight knit communities of early twentieth-century Jewish life, Rosenfeld's stories portray an entirely different view of pre-war Jewish families. His stories are urban, domestic dramas that probe the often painful disjunctions between men and women, parents and children, rich and poor, Jews and Gentiles, self and society. They explore eroticism and family dysfunction in narratives that were often shocking to readers at the time they were published.

Following the Modernist tradition, Rosenfeld rejected many established norms, such as religion and the assumption of absolute truth. Rather, his work is rooted in psychological realism, portraying the inner lives of alienated individuals who struggle to construct a world in which they can live. These deeply moving, empathetic stories provide a counterbalance to the prevailing idealized portrait of shtetl life and enrich our understanding of Yiddish literature.


My Review
: I'll bet good hard cash, my own United States dollars, that you've never heard of Jonah Rosenfeld. Yiddish-language literature is, to be frank, a specialist taste; a lot of it is what we used to call "schmaltzy," that is to say greased down with lots and lots of chicken fat. The implication being that Yiddish-speaking people, or Jews as we call them now, were all about Mammele and her iron grip on her boychik the melamed. (Not Rabbi, that's the Everest of stereotypical Jewish Motherhood.) Old-fashioned stuff meant to amuse the Old Country immigrant audience that New York City had in abundance while Rosenfeld was writing here (1921–1944).

Are you still here? Did you click away already? Because that's not what Jonah Rosenfeld delivers (mostly)! Lost in a haze of his largely forgotten mother tongue compounded with increasing assimilationist pressures on the now-third-generation immigrants after World War II and the Holocaust, Author Rosenfeld fell into an unjust desuetude. He was wildly popular among his direct contemporaries because he was emphatically not going to feed you pap, as Translator Miner tells us:
In his search for psychological veracity, Rosenfeld does not flinch from the darker side of human nature. Indeed, the psyche's darkest corners are central to his writing. He is, according to Harry (Hillel) Rogoff:
"{A} painter of sadness, grief, fear and horror...a portrayer of love, passion and lust in their decadent stages, when they approach degeneracy...but the keynote of realism is never missing."
His stories are every bit as tough to read as the much-younger Simenon's romans durs, or Erskine Caldwell's realism by way of rage and misery. The pace of interwar societal change informs the need in these (among so many others) writers' careers to explore the rough edges that more mainstream writers don't touch, or don't grab hold of at least, in order to elicit something in a reader that she doesn't necessarily want to offer: Empathy.
{Rosenfeld's} writings, like those of many of his contemporaries, are set in the context of rapidly changing Jewish culture. Urbanization, emigration, increasing social mobility, and pressures to assimilate provide the locus of conflict for many of his characters, whose personal isolation "becomes a metaphor for the rupture and dislocation resulting from the breakup of traditional Jewish values." (footnoted to Schwartz, "The Trials of a Yiddish Writer in America," 196.) Even religion provides little comfort in many of Rosenfeld's stories, whose characters practice rituals devoid of meaning. Jews are caught in a no-man's-land, not truly sustained by Judaism, yet not in harmony and ease with their Gentile neighbors either.
Like his age cohort of writers, the Modernists like Ford Madox Ford (his near contemporary in age) and Ernest Hemingway, the joys of sentimentalism are foregone in Rosenfeld's work. He spares no thought for the warm glow of a loving, crowded hearth; I suspect the fact that he was ejected from his family, essentially sold into slavery (well, apprenticeship anyway) at thirteen, plays some part in his career-spanning unwillingness to write cheery little vignettes of The Old Country:
It is true {writes Translator Miner} that Rosenfeld neglects or subverts much of what was positive in Jewish life, especially in his treatment of family relationships. His domestic dramas, however, serve as a corrective to the tendency of American {Yiddish-language} readers to sentimentalize a Jewish world that no longer exists.
And please note that the audience Author Rosenfeld wrote for was not a small one: Twenty (20!) volumes of short stories; two full-length novels; a dozen plays. This was a culture that was intensely literary, and spawned a lot of theatrical legends, arguably reaching apotheosis on Broadway with 1960s shows like Fiddler on the Roof and Milk and Honey. As Author Rosenfeld's plays are as yet untranslated, I can't state this as fact, but I strongly suspect that his plays show clearly he'd've shuddered at those sentimental shows. This was a man whose first forty years were spent in places that hated him for what he was born as, a Jew. He was a deeply unhappy man. He had no illusions about the comforts of home or the love of family. He was, in short, me! This is why I enjoyed reading these stories so much. I was communing with my bygone, cynical, angry self. And it felt just fine, thanks.

As is my habit, I will now address each story's merits (or lack thereof) using the Bryce Method, going tale-by-tale through all nineteen of them offering my take.

The Rivals documents a man's descent from depression into madness. Meyer is completely useless; his wife, the grudging breadwinner, resents feeding him; his oldest daughter is just adult enough to resent his uselessness without any empathy to balance her rage. A death, a departure, endings all around...rival father leaves the field to rival daughter. He won't survive long. He knows it, too. A bitter taste of family agony to whet one's appetite. 4 stars

A Fleeting Romance is the most frustrating, annoying tale in human history: JUST. TALK. TO. EACH. OTHER! Young, class-conscious Mayer lives with his brother's growing young family in Feygl's family home. Mayer works as a woodcarver for his brother's business; Feygl's warm, kind, accepting family Own Property. Feygl, to the reader, is Interested in the utterly besotted Mayer; but we meet the pair as she escorts a visiting cousin to the train station at the end of a visit, and Mayer's obsessive jealous self follows them:
He stopped in his tracks. People walking in either direction on the narrow sidewalk kept bumping into him. He stood there like a fifth wheel in the middle of the street, in the middle of the bright, sunny weekday that had nothing to do with him but belonged to all those other people who were in the business of doing absolutely nothing and making money in the process.
He is so obsessed with his silly childish ideas about what others think of him that he goes into agonies about having agonies:
Was she about to get married? Was she about to not get married? Or was she not even about to not get married?
Anyone who's ever been in First Love relates to that...but of absolute course, being Mayer and a victim of the lowest possible self-esteem, when push comes to shove and he's in sight of his goal of really talking to her...two years! Two long years! He's wild for her.... 5 stars

At Sunrise is a first-person tale from Humbert Humbert's Jewish cousin. Deeply squicky, not one I ever want to read again! 3 stars because, like Lolita, the language is lovely if the story is not.

The Lodger follows Leah, an old maid of twenty-five, a well-set-up girl from a respectable family, as she grows weary of the burden of being single. She and her mother decide to use the old take-in-a-lodger stratagem, and angrily drive off unsuitable applicants for their spare room. Then...The Lodger arrives. But isn't remotely interested in Leah. Until one night...
It was a warm, dark night—one of those summer nights that promises everything and gives nothing—it offers but then disappoints. ... But the night! The warm, tranquil night wordlessly called out to life, and standing in that silent darkness, hearing that call, Leah wavered. She knew exactly what she wanted...she had to go in to him, he had to explain what he'd done...but no, she couldn't...she'd just knock at his door and tell him to walk more quietly, he was keeping her parents awake...
Leah stood hesitating while the lodger paced faster and faster inside his room, a jittery nerve vibrating in the body of the night. Leah strained to listen. Each footstep, like a restless echo, reverberated inside her. Every instinct told her she had to do something, go to him, but she didn't trust herself. Only her will held her back.
Have you ever in your life read a better evocation of sheer animal lust? And, as the Urge swells to almighty proportions, Leah begins to sing.

The ending is as cruel and horrible a trick as fate can play on anyone whose lust, whose love, is spurned. 4.5 stars

Reb Dovid recounts the evening of a spinster daughter's life, her world on hold because her father (the sarcastically yclept Reb of the title) is shiftless and won't (can't?) provide a dowry for her to marry. His little bits of money come from saying the prayers for dead people, for being the community's memory for the departed in their cemetery, and the days then are all spent in shul praying:
It was as if he'd been created only to demonstrate that you can have a wife and children and still live a solitary life: a peaceful life, a life without worries, without the bother of making a living.
Since his sons, younger than his daughter, are hungry and ambitious, they start a laundry that also employs the spinster sister since she doesn't want to marry, couldn't afford to if she wanted to, and is "too...":
Well, we certainly can believe that {she} also admitted that she was too arrogant, and of course too never serves a person well.
She is finally goaded into action when her father, after yet another day away from his family contributing nothing to their survival, gives her a ripe pear as he breezes past her on the enclosed porch. Something about that carelessly kind act, a father feeding his daughter a treat, catalyzes a lifetime of purposeless existence. Final actions are taken to the tune of El Maleh Rakhamim, a sad tuneful prayer for a dead person. 4 stars

What Happened to the Old Man? scared me.
Somewhere in the still-aware depths of his mind thoughts leaped like cold toads. He was dead. Death was something that beat with a rush of wings. It was familiar, yet frighteningly strange. It was alive, but it lived with an unliving life: it lived with death.
I'll give it 4.5 stars because it was so very, very eerie and uncanny.

Three Women details the miseries of longing for something but never being sure just what; when you're about to plump for one of your options, it's not appealing or something isn't working or you just don't want it after all:
He looked at Judith's pretty, aristocratic-looking face, and it bothered him that he didn't love her.
"Why don't I love you?" He handed her his walking stick. "Take this, hit me!" So Judith, with outward good humor, stuck out her lower lip and whacked him over the arms and shoulders as hard as she could. Meyer bore the blows without protest. Suddenly Judith made a silly face and asked how he could prove he loved her. He didn't get what she meant but just looked at her...
Then an irrevocable choice is made, a violent act perpetrated and Fate's trap springs...on thin air.... 4 stars

Manka is an unusual name, meaning "left-handed" as well as a derivative of the Hebrew name "Miriam," a name of many disputed meanings...most appropriate here is likely "bitter sea."
His glances aren't sexual, though Manka still doesn't like them. Even more repulsive are the flirtatious eyes of the guests, eyes that burn and tear at her everywhere she goes.
She feels their silence devouring her; she feels their thoughts devouring her, their eyes penetrating deeply into her hidden female places...she wants to run, hide, bury herself and her good looks somewhere far away; she wants to armor herself in ice, so their stares won't dirty her clean body.
What can be worse that being reduced to value of face, demoted from being taken at face value even, dropped into a well of lust that can not be deflected or declined, only ignored? Ignorance of what, exactly, it is these men who receive her food service want isn't on, the girl is afraid to touch her own body with her own hands because she has been so traumatized by undisguised and unashamed lust that she fears the hands, as she thinks of them, her own hands she thinks of as "the hands," think on that for a minute!, will violate her.

A fearsome and fierce story of the damage we do without even considering that an action could be damaging. 4.5 stars

The Four shows how different things are now from 120+ years ago. The little girl's jealous rivalry with the sister old enough to be her mother, the complaisance of the mother around the old man's creepin' on the little girl; the old man desiring the older sister; all of it very much what happens in life but amazingly honest for its time...not a little shocking now, all that borderline pedophilia. Uneasy reading.
The little girl touched his moustache with one finger, making a face: "Eee, your moustache is all wet!" She promptly scrubbed at his moustache with her good holiday apron while the portly gentleman, melting with delight, held still for her. When she was done the kissed, and he congratulated her on her birthday; then, taking her arm, he put it behind her back and fastened something around it. A moment later, seeing the bracelet of silver coins encircling her wrist, she gleefully jumped up, hugged his neck, and clunf to it while he carried her twice around the room.
That wouldn't fly in today's world! Also in this story I came across a very deft piece of infodumping, the way these stories are not only translated from Yiddish but from shtetl culture:
"Come, Madame Thimble!" {the old man} teased {the older sister}, referring to the young heroine of a popular Yiddish play.
How would you go about explaining Betty Rubble to a Martian reader? I think Translator Miner did a bang-up job. 4.5 stars

Mazel Tov makes a life-changing decision's painful, and long-lasting, consequences crystal clear. Author Rosenfeld knew, intimately, a woman or some women who had abortions. He understood the loss, the agony of body and mind, and the complexity of the inevitably unavailable man in this transitional time. The title is the cruelest, most callous joke I've ever read. 4 stars for packing a wallop in a few words.

A Holiday makes the high psychic cost of living among people who aren't your own so plain it hurts. Pesach bleeds into Paska, Passover to Easter, and there's nothing more deadly to a working person than an enforced vacation. Call it a holiday, Holy Day, and it somehow becomes worse. The worker and his daughters aren't getting anything spiritual out of the holy days. They sense the Easter crowds enjoying their holy day...but it's only the loud, clanging bells and the excitement of being in a crowd that's excited about the same thing you are. And the Jews in the story? They're left out. They are aside, apart, away from the crowds even when the daughters seek out the excitement of the midnight Mass. Bitter sadness, emptiness, and religious fidelity...sound, feel, deaden. 3.5 stars

The Inheritance recalls the grisly, grim, painful origin of the oldest-son-of-ten's enduring inheritance from his dead father. A depressing vignette meditating on the costs of emigration on parents, children, and families. 3.5 stars

Just One of Those Stories says it all in the title: Apprentice Motl loves his boss, macher Reb Mayer Cohen (follow the links! the words are important clues) and his boss's daughter who has a limp. He's nobody much, a good son and a good apprentice but not from Reb Mayer's social class. But the limp, now, the family will have to adjust their expectations from a prospective match because the limp...and then, as Rosenfeld usually does to us, the twist and the sting in the tail. This time it's so unexpected that I actually burst out laughing. 4 stars
Yet strangely, despite the feeling of insignificance, he felt important too, because he was about to begin working in this firm that was so enormous it made him feel insignificant; that sense of insignificant importance (or was it important insignificance?) made him feel even bigger than his father.
The trademark Jonah Rosenfeld with the idea of the words, the word order, the sentence structure to fully mine the meaning of a thought. He was bloody brilliant at it. That one's just short enough for me to retype without getting RSI.

Francisco tells the tale of Avrom Moysheh the innkeeper's titular goyishe servant, his shrew of a daughter, and a ridiculous vendetta she has against the poor, slow man. She doesn't even know why she's making the man miserable...if he is, we're told he's not bright and doesn't act offended by anything except the woman insulting him in Yiddish instead of Polish, assuming he won't understand her, the nerve!...until, one fine morning, things come to a bitter, bitter head. 3.5 stars because I think the resolution is disproportionate to the stimulus.

Who Would Have Known? announces the end of the world for Reyzel Blackstone, emigrant to the Land of Milk and Honey called America, in the form of a letter from the Old Country. A husband she didn't love, doesn't love, and a long-ago barely-even-acquaintance collide. No couple ever has the same relationship at the same time, marriages wouldn't last under that strain. But the past, the shared past of two people who know each other for years, that isn't the same past the same way a marriage isn't the same for each person in it. And Reyzel Blackstone fucks her whole life up by assuming, after twenty years or more with the same man!, that he is on the same page that she is! How dimwitted can you be! So now what does Mr. Blackstone, the one who kisses, do but start thinking...fatal! never, ever think about what your wife is thinking, husbands!...and wondering and then, finally, doing the stupidest thing of all: Asking questions he really doesn't want the answers to. The end. I mean that literally: The. End. 5 stars, far and away my favorite story in the collection.

Who Are You? made me angry, silly petulant stupidity writ fatal, not worthy of the rest of these stories, not deep enough to make more than a sensation instead of giving rise to an emotion. What a putz that vain young man is! The girl's no prize either, with her coy little waffle to hide her interest in the fine young manimal. Yeccchhh. 2 stars

The Outcast makes intergenerational violence ever so painfully clearly The Problem With The World. Heavy-handed, tendentious, overdone; not wrong, not factually incorrect, but grisly and hard to read. The ending is box-stock Freudian stuff, the kind we've largely realized isn't as simple, as if-then as once supposed. Not particularly stylistically interesting, either. 3 stars

In A Crowded Place traces the birth, burgeoning, and death of a young woman on the subway's passionate attachment to a stranger who comes to sit beside her. She pulls out all the stops, really plays that organ in the soundtrack of her mental soap opera (did I ever just date myself!); she imagines herself in multiple relationships with him, and then their affair comes to its natural end as he gets off the train...with another girl. Oh the agony! It was funny, fun, and really goofy. I suppose the ultimate point of the story is to make anomie and loneliness real, to show their dark results on a real person. I enjoyed the surface levels more than the psychology, though Author Rosenfeld's chops are such that one experience doesn't necessitate the other, one can actually choose the level of response while seeing them all. It's incredibly difficult to do! 3.5 stars

Here's the Story taught me a word I never knew the meaning of before, thank goodness, or I'd've had to be really, really rude to someone I know's brother: shegetz, a nasty way to call someone Jewish a faker, a person ashamed of and hiding his Jewishness. It's used here in the plural, shkotzim, as well; I hadn't known that concept even existed. Well, water under the creaky old bridge.

The story introduces us to a Gentile, Semyon, whose Yiddish is flawless but whose heart isn't Jewish. Jonah Rosenfeld, our narrator, doesn't realize he knows Semyon until some words remind him of the young scalawag this now-grown labor activist was. It was fun to hear the author talk about his (most likely) fictionalized self, and to have him introduce us to the world he left alongside the world he's in now as a Yiddish-language writer. As always, misunderstandings come between young couples. Semyon doesn't want Jonah to leave the city, they're a good double act as the Writer and the Reader of Tales; Jonah doesn't want to stay and watch Semyon get kudos for the work he creates but Semyon embodies. And the girl? She's there to hide the evident real attraction is between Semyon and Jonah. Given the times, of course that can't be said aloud. I expect most readers wouldn't see that facet but it could not possibly be more plain. 4 stars

Monday, May 4, 2020



Fitzcarraldo Editions
$6.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 3.5* of five

The Publisher Says: From one of the most lauded artists of his generation comes a purging soliloquy: a profound nowt delivered in some spent afterwards. Scorched by senility and nostalgia, and wracked by all kinds of hunger, Ed Atkins’ Old Food lurches from allegory to listicle, from lyric to menu, fetching up a plummeting, idiomatic and crabbed tableau from the cannibalised remains of each form in turn. Written in conjunction with Atkins’ exhibition of the same name, Old Food is a hard Brexit, wadded with historicity, melancholy and a bravura kind of stupidity.

Ed Atkins is an artist who makes all kinds of convolutions of self-portraiture. He writes uncomfortably intimate, debunked prophesies; paints travesties; and makes realistic computer generated videos that often feature figures that resemble the artist in the throes of unaccountable psychical crises. Atkins’ artificial realism, whether written or animated, pastiches romanticism to get rendered down to a sentimental blubber – all the better to model those bleak feelings often so inexpressible in real life.


My Review
: Listen, from *ME*, three and a half stars for poetry is a goddam rave review. I really, really dislike being condescended to; poets are, of necessity, self-referential and therefore can't avoid a certain amount of "what do you mean, what do I mean by that?" It's irritating as all get-out to me. I feel about it the way I suspect not-very-bright people feel about being forced to read The Classics. THEN there's the unrelenting Englishness of the poem! I mean, don't read a tree book of this, my fellow Murrikinz, you gonna NEED that Wikipedia/dictionary function A LOT.
Red spider mites paused
there, druft
down through the gone
with other and more real
bits of the
summer, seasoning a
generous spread
of pokey galantines, upset
duck and
I think quail. Charged with
waves of
mortadella, fagged little
chicken livers, garlic
mosaics. ...
Not so much, then, on the pleasure reading scale. "Druft" and "galantines" and so on and so forth, well, yes it's titled "Old Food" but good lord! Brand-name junk foods, exotic-to-Colonials preparations of things we don't eat that much of, and just flat gross mental pictures you can't unsee:
Oodles of
dropsical maggots and lice.
maggots moving fast like
sea penises. They got all up
in her
mouth and in her ears so
that for the
longest time she could only
in Martian, hear distant
wars and/
or futures. Wiping tough
tits, is
Thank you for just opening
your legs
the goose wishbone and the
gavage to
engorge to torture. On
thick, doorstop
toast with mustard seeds
and sweated
green onions, served with a
glass of a cool, pale
Sauternes and
with Hannah.
But sticking with it, keeping the pace of reading, pays off in a very strange way for the uncultured oafs like me: Bend your brain a little. Crank the handle again, spread the jalousie just a fraction more than before, and the weird, unlyrical pleasure of the writing will catch you.

Might catch you. Could catch you. Let it catch you.

And did anyone who's read a significant portion of my over seven hundred forty blogged reviews, over eighteen hundred total reviews, ever expect to hear me say that?

Friday, May 1, 2020

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF TIME TRAVEL, debut SF time-travel Lesbian-led thriller


Crooked Lane Books (non-affiliate Amazon link; the publisher's site does not have any information about this title)
$7.99 Kindle edition, available now

Rating: 4.5* of five

The Publisher Says: In 1967, four female scientists worked together to build the world’s first time machine. But just as they are about to debut their creation, one of them suffers a breakdown, putting the whole project—and future of time travel—in jeopardy. To protect their invention, one member is exiled from the team—erasing her contributions from history.

Fifty years later, time travel is a big business. Twenty-something Ruby Rebello knows her beloved grandmother, Granny Bee, was one of the pioneers, though no one will tell her more. But when Bee receives a mysterious newspaper clipping from the future reporting the murder of an unidentified woman, Ruby becomes obsessed: could it be Bee? Who would want her dead? And most importantly of all: can her murder be stopped?

Traversing the decades and told from alternating perspectives, The Psychology of Time Travel introduces a fabulous new voice in fiction and a new must-read for fans of speculative fiction and women’s fiction alike.


My Review
: Okay. This is hard. I can't explain why I didn't give this fascinating, layered, reality-twisting novel of ideas less than five full stars without spoilering the hell out of the ending.

Let me approach this from the side. I remember a few details from the past, when there was one digit in my age. I don't claim, at this late date, that they are factual and accurate; way too much time has passed, way too many things look completely different to my grandfatherly self than they *could* have to my kid self. So is that The Past, my version of the past, a fantastical creation of my imagination, some combination of these (and other) angles of view? Is something new created, something old altered, is there any way imaginable that this paradox could be resolved with technological time travel? Or would that just make things a lot worse?
“Maybe being in charge of time and space would give anyone a god complex, but she’s such a mean god.”
Reader, this novel does not answer those questions. It does not approach your experience of its story universe from the position of *giving* you answers; it demands of you that you spend significant mental energy creating answers for yourself, using the story's elements (note I did not call them facts) to sort out who actually intended to be good and create happiness for the greatest number of souls.
“Rules exist for a reason.”
“Yes, to stigmatize people.”
“Sometimes, we have a moral duty to break the rules. Particularly where the rulemakers are corrupt.”
The answer is not the one you expect it to be. Or it wasn't the one I expected it to be. So I think you're likely to be led down the strange and winding thread of the screw bolting the monster's head to their body, directly into a concrete slab, and left there to wonder just what exactly happened while you thought you were reading a fun little entertainment about women empowering themselves in the world of 1967.
“Remember that. When you go, you want to have people you love to think about. You need enough money to feed yourself, and a sense of purpose is nice. But the rest is superfluous.”
And you'll like it.