Reviews, Interviews, Opinions

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Review - Sad Robot Stories

By Claire Gillespie

Sad Robot Stories Blog Tour Mason JohnsonSad Robot Stories is, indeed, sad, and the novella’s main character, Robot, may just break your heart. Too curious to fit in with his methodic siblings and too precise to fit in with humans, Robot is a perpetual outsider. This status allows him to observe the human race through the welcome of a human fellow factory worker Mike and his family. Eating casserole with Mike’s wife and children, Robot learns that disaster can be avoided with a little bit of sentimentality and humor and that keeping track of children is more difficult than it seems. Robot realizes that he can be scared and can love, and that these are both important.

Mike and his wife Sally, as Robot learns, fall in love over books. They send each other classics, detective stories, and ideas through letters. Their shared love of the stories they send each other is what brings them together. Mason Johnson structures Sad Robot Stories as a narrative within a narrative: some stories, like that of Sally and Mike, sit for awhile before they become part of the larger story. Other stories grow rapidly.

Review - Love Songs of the Revolution

By KC Kirkley

On the first page of Bronwyn Mauldin's Love Songs of the Revolution, Martynas Kudirka, the Lithuanian-American narrator and protagonist, claims that his memoir is "true" – a sure sign that we're dealing in subterfuge.  Historicity, in fact, is under cross examination in Mauldin's novel-masquerading-as-memoir, but that concept isn't fully realized until well after the main narrative text is finished.  While the memoir itself is a formidable little bit of fiction, Mauldin places it in context with other documents that shine a mottled light on the difference between fact and truth.  However, before we can think about all of that, we must first deal with Kudirka's "memoir."

On the second page, Kudirka warns us that we (his American audience, of whom he is hyper-aware and judgmental), will be disappointed in his story. In fact, he warns that we are "fools to expect anything but heartache and disappointment" from his story, or anything else at all, for that matter.

Review - Painted Cities

By Alex Houston

Painted CitiesIt seems strange, wrong even, to start a book review by talking about the cover, given the old adage regarding judgment thereof. But the alluringly surreal jacket design of Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski's luminous, chill-inducing short story collection Painted Cities is so evocative of the book's content and barrio setting that I'm tempted to use this review as a platform to urge the artist, Joel Trussell, and the author to collaborate on a graphic novel version of the book (and I guess I just did). Assuming you don't have the book in front of you, here's what I'm talking about: a jumbled, almost cubistic mess of buildings rendered in shades of blue, among which various urban scenes are depicted in jarring bursts of color—children playing in rainbow-colored water spouting from fire hydrants, magenta flames shooting from the windows of a house, the orange glow of streetlights, and, against a pink sky, the Chicago skyline, shadowy and unreachable in the distance.

Review - Nine Rabbits

By AJ Flack

Nine Rabbits Virginia Zaharieva

“I sit down on the couch with the cleaver in my lap. Is this real? Is this my life?”

 A brief episode in Virginia Zaharieva’s novel Nine Rabbits finds the protagonist Manda, in this uncomfortable position, brandishing a knife at her husband so he’ll think twice next time. This is not a story about the horrors of spousal abuse; this is the first, to the reader’s knowledge, that Manda's self-obsessed, demi-tyrant husband has bothered to beat his wife, usually preferring to emotionally ravage her. Grown-up Manda, here reflecting on her suffocating marriage, is the focus of the second part of the book, which explores the interior of a woman navigating existence. Part One is dedicated to Manda's as a small child, living in communist Bulgaria in the care of her abusive grandmother. Accounts of her grandmother’s merciless version of child rearing pull you into the surf, underneath the waves, where you will stay throughout, drowning and surfacing at will. Grown-up Manda carries with her those bruised, early years.

Review - We, Monsters

By Marcella Prokop

We, Monsters Zarina ZabriskyIn Zarina's Zabrisky's novel, We, Monsters, psychology and desire pull the reader from one world to another, beginning with an introduction crafted to explain Freudian concepts and the psychological theories that have shaped what clinicians have termed dissociative identity disorder. This explication of the thematic elements at play within the narrative is helpful, but may color readers' perceptions before they can solidify their own.  As Zabrisky soon illustrates, the line between what is and what isn't relies on much more than one's own sense of reality.

Once the story begins, Zabrisky does an inscrutable job of wrenching the reader around in much the same way an individual experiencing a fugue state or dissociative moment might flash between worlds and coherence.  In doing so, the author has offered readers the opportunity to slip into at least three other lives. The first belongs to the unnamed primary narrator, a Ukrainian émigré who is also an aspiring novelist, mother and wife—in that order.

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