Reviews, Interviews, Opinions

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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 Alanna 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.

Review - All Movies Love the Moon

By KC Kirkley

All Movies Love the Moon Gregory RobinsonIn All Movies Love the Moon, Gregory Robinson uses a decidedly antiquated source—silent movies—as a launch pad for his own dream-flights, and while he spends a fair amount of time referencing the ''stars" of that bygone era, it is primarily Mêlées' moon that provides the celestial metaphor around which he orbits. The collection, based on the intersection of classic film and contemporary thought, uses these sources to create something altogether new and novel.

The references to the moon, from Mêlées' iconic film A Trip to the Moon (1902) near the beginning of the book and from Fritz Lang's Woman in the Moon (1929) near the end of the book, offer a rather obsolete fascination with going there (imagine if there was a way to travel to the moon!) that Robinson here successfully reclaims for the contemporary mind.

Review - My Brother's Name

By Alanna Flack

Laura Krughoff My Brother's NameTrying on and shedding identities, keeping the parts that fit, discarding the rest at our digression until we have assembled all the right stuff—this is how we like to imagine the “self” is formed. Laura Krughoff’s debut novel My Brother’s Name is a humbling reminder that identity is rarely such a neat, or self-determined, package.

Jane opens her story, part memoir, part out-of-body experience, by introducing herself in terms of her older brother. Krughoff demonstrates her gift for economy early with this anecdote: John is four years old when his parents bring his sister home bearing the name Baby Girl on her birth certificate. John gives his sister the name Jane, a telling variation of his own name, and we learn everything we need to know to believe in the relationship that unfolds between them.

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