Unplug. In-Power. Recreate: Transformative Poetry by A*K² | Book Review

Author: Archana “A*K²” Karthikeyan

Publisher: Self-Published

Published: May 4, 2022

Genres: Poetry, Self-Help, Philosophy, Nonfiction

Pages: 245

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“Here I fit, in my slot, / A tiny but irreplaceable puzzle piece…” – A*K²

Poetry collections are apt at capturing a running theme only to set it free to follow its every move ad infinitum. Opposite to cat-and-mouse antics, poetry delivers a message that belongs to someone and everyone. With poetry, a message becomes the message, which in turn becomes Message. Each message can change interpretation or ideation with each new reading. Upon reading Unplug. In-Power. Recreate: Transformative Poetry by Archana Karthikeyan (A*K²), the invitation for change is painted with a broad brush.

Truths are shared, images are presented, but they suffer from association and a lack of correlation. Relationships between truth and image to establish any metaphor with far-reaching consequence is replaced with pithy platitudes. The mortal sin of writing is to tell and to tell too much. The damnation of that sin is the curse of knowledge; the assumption that a student knows and experiences knowledge the way a teacher does. For example, the poem “Smoke & Mirrors” sets up two promising pictures that could serve concrete meanings but ends in an obvious if-then, cause-and-effect pay-off.

Poetry should teach not just through telling, but showing. In equal measure, although with partial leaning towards showing as a rule of thumb, explanation should clarify while pictorial language should simplify. Poetry is not meant to be a counselor. Poetry is not meant to be an advice column. However, one can find counsel from a poem without it being too didactic, generic, or redundant. The poetry in Unplug takes on conversational and confessional tones, as if the speaker has been the recipient of response poems and written response poems from a place of respite and resolve.

A*K² makes good on this in “I Don’t Fit In” where being accepted and accepting yourself are ideas in conflict with each other. It uses a problem and solution text structure that gets its advice across concretely and abstractly, but this form is relied on and recycled often in this collection, giving a hollow ring to truths. The father-to-son advice from “If—” by Rudyard Kipling balances the well-meaning (sentimental) with the discerning (practical) that begins broad (truth) and paces that truth in considerate, specific circumstances (imagery) reflective of its subject, theme, and audience. Stating the truth without exploring the truth leaves the truth starving in a devolved, stagnant, mitigated, and less meaningful state. Unplug unfortunately undermines its truths in a long string of advice sans enough practical examples that would meet its calls to action.

Final Rating:

$2 Bill

Step Lively: New York City Tales of Love and Change by Sherri Moshman-Paganos | Book Review

Author: Sherri Moshman-Paganos

Publisher: Self-Published

Published: May 12, 2022

Genres: Memoir, Historical Fiction

Pages: 148

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“I would give you all of my heart if you loved me!” – Sherri Moshman-Paganos

New York City is a hotbed of possibilities. Many have made it a tourist destination, an indulgent escape for entertainment, and a tamed overgrowth of expressionism performed with modest and courageous finesse. Others find the mythologized Concrete Jungle to be just that: hurdles of concrete and habit-forming jungle. Sporadic, sultry, serpentine, seedy, qualities that seem inescapable in The City That Never Sleeps. It is easy to feel wayward in a bustling place that people somehow call home. Step Lively: New York City Tales of Love and Change challenges and romanticizes the chase of living your dream through vicarious and pernicious vacillation in an idyllic and robust cityscape.

Told in vignettes, Sherri Moshman-Paganos presents a sidestep to the “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” trope of countless New York iterations. Jill, an artistic, ESL teacher, and Alex, a tidy, punctual lawyer, are the young New York couple who serve as the novel’s through line. Outside these vignette’s fuzzy edges, Jill and Alex experience the archetype characters, street vendors, store clerks, bums, and idiosyncratic apartment dwellers. The love in the stories can be categorized into want and need. The latter is missing and is overshadowed by the former. Diametrically opposed, Jill and Alex gripe and bemoan more than they give love and attention. Their relationship puts the “opposites attract” bid to rest in unceremonious ways; rather than understand each other and celebrate their differences (a love of need) they try to change each other indirectly and sarcastically (a love of want). When events happen to them, it comes from a passive and woe-is-me frame of mind. When they cause events to happen, it feels ordinary, obvious, and overbearingly referential to the point of cliché. References to New York are made, but they do not change the characters. New York anachronisms more or less solidify them.

Step Lively is written with the lens of a 1980s zeitgeist, its title referring to the exclamation of conductors for passenger pushers to board passengers onto subway transit. The phrase was introduced in 1904, then changed to “press forward” in 1908; either way, the experience described is linguistically pleasant rather than hurriedly unpleasant for Jill. Granted a trip down memory lane may always be the same, sometimes memory lane goes through bittersweet changes. The watershed moment of John Lennon’s death was used to good effect, presenting a metaphor of a good thing dying, innocence being lost, and the mixed, turbulent feelings of the characters at that time. Lackadaisical moments are far more prevalent however, trapping characters in the past. Grandmother Sadye haphazardly remembers her experiences growing up as an immigrant from Ellis Island and in New York. What is unbelievable and too convenient is Sadye’s lack of memory of a particular French tower. The Statue of Liberty was a gift from France and the Eiffel Tower is also from France; even someone uneducated, a European immigrant, no less, could recognize this world famous landmark, either mentioned in passing or by image alone, after all this time. It is as if characters are so innocent that they are excused from consequences. A great deal of time is spent on emotional appeals and the logical side of things are safely overanalyzed, lambasted, and tucked away in a classroom. The times change, but the characters do not; if they do change, it is in minute, inconsequential ways.

Memory may not be reliable, but the angst and admiration it stirs cannot be ignored or idolized, only experienced. Step Lively holds the belief, to paraphrase Søren Kierkegaard, that it is better to experience reality rather than to solve its volatility. Margaret Atwood said we all become stories in the end, and as an addendum, memory will continue and change our stories for better or for worse. Step Lively shares that memory better to the detriment of reality.

Final Rating:

Red/Blue Pill

Crushing by Sophie Burrows | Book Review

Author / Illustrator: Sophie Burrows

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: January 2022

Genres: Graphic Novel / Young Adult

Pages: 160

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Somewhere in the hustle and bustle of a British city, two unnamed protagonists, a modest man and woman, toil through with a wistful longing for connection and understanding. Social norms and societal pressures pervade their conscience, leaving subliminal cues they cannot fulfill. Modern romance and relationships become a hapless hunt for happiness. Sweet and innocent curiosities are soured by the invasion of indiscriminate idiosyncrasies, the hallmarks of human nature, that taint the experience of being with and knowing someone. Complications ebb and flow between the need to connect and the want to be alone. Their activities explore the mundane and humdrum facets of life, the vast chances and possibilities in a crowd of doubt, and the moments of loneliness and love that cripple and create our will to rise again.

Sophie Burrows gives her Crushing the silent film treatment. Each page is a vignette told in a muted colored, Etch A Sketch frame of mind. The fading hues of black and grey make the touches of red an interesting motif in motion. Life is subdued, painful, worrisome, but measured and malleable, momentary and momentous. The characters can feel existence expanding and shrinking as they have their awkward encounters. The man, perhaps a penciled Ed Sheeran, performs odd jobs and errands that require small talk and scripted dialogue which drains him. He is at once unassuming but emasculated and challenged by his masculinity, attempting to find some deeper, meaningful purpose. The woman, perhaps a penciled Mara Wilson, is a café waitress who is challenged by her femininity but is not unaware of her grace. She feels safe belonging in certain venues that celebrate personality rather than idolize superficiality. Subtle glances, strong advances, and a surreptitious sundry of steep satisfaction sully and spoil sexuality and anything sultry for silly and serious reasons. Both creatures of habit are homebodies by heart and are made to think that they are a problem rather than a solution. Although, them being a solution to a problem is not too farfetched and not too feasible either.

Crushing feels superstitious in tone, as if being in a relationship is this forbidden yet fortuitous stage to stand on. However, the performance is nothing one can chalk up to a Disney movie or romantic comedy. Relationships are not this fantasy to live in, they are made tenable to be made fantastic. What is more, relationships do not have to become a fantasy; there is something to be cherished in the ordinary. Expectations should be real, not overblown or done without. Sometimes those expectations are corroborated, calibrated, or even discovered later unexpectedly until they become shared values. There is no easy way to desire, establish, or keep a relationship. Small acts of kindness are enough to be like a relationship, ever so briefly, even if a relationship does not begin, continue, and develop from them. Burrows expresses this, the caveats, and necessity of a relationship in one’s life: to find the person that compliments, not complicates, life or the relationship. Isolation is not always the best answer, being alone can be better, but togetherness can be the thing that saves you.

Final Rating:

It’s Lit!

How Do You Live? by Genzaburō Yoshino | Book Review

Author: Genzaburō Yoshino

Illustrator: Carla Weise

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: October 2021

Genres: Children’s Fiction / Young Adult

Pages: 288

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“We gather together to create the world, and what’s more, we are moved by the waves of the world and thereby brought to life.”

– Genzaburō Yoshino

In pre-World War II Japan, a boy named Honda Jun’ichi loses his father, leaving him socially perplexed about his place in life. His fun-loving creativity leads Honda to troubling yet curious questions about and for the world. He decides they are not enough for one mind to think of, so he seeks council from his uncle, his mentor and father figure. From one discovery to the next, Honda is relieved and ready to explore the boundless knowledge and cultures of the human race through the lens of his own life and life itself.

How Do You Live? is a bildungsroman Japanese tale translated to English for the first time since its original publication in 1937. While its resurgence will garner new readers, it has also brought the acclaimed animator of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, out of retirement to make one last film based on this classic, his childhood favorite, and just in time for Ghibli Fest. The story acts as a time capsule that remembers not only the idyllic past, but a promising future. The novel is careful not to be overbearing with its historical and political context as it serves a necessary, metaphorical, and practical ethos. The book also takes aims at groupthink, selfishness, and the suspension of disbelief with considerate measures, thoughts, and defenses against their extremes. Put simply, Yoshino writes with metacognition, depicts a progressive multiculturalism while recognizing the dark side of human nature, and celebrates ideas, the people who have them, the people without them, and the people who misuse them. It is also a celebration of celebration itself, the ability to be grateful, to exhibit gratitude for the actions, feelings, and thoughts we have. In this way, the life lessons presented by the characters become one bridge rather than a border between each other and a story that they tell together and apart, knowingly and unknowingly.

The reader cannot help but be caught unawares by the selfless mindfulness and truthful awareness that can easily be overlooked due to the immediacy of the present moment. By the same token, it is also a time to live in that moment, to reflect before and after one acts, to never squander the meaning around one’s self and inside others. A most befitting and prominent example of this is when a character grows ill at one point. The expected writer of this novel was initially Yūzō Yamamoto until he too became ill. Here Yoshino adheres to both philosophies of life imitating art and art imitating life. How the uncle and Honda create their own nomenclature for behavior, ethics, history, science, religion, philosophy, and other studies helps them to think of themselves less, not less of themselves, and think of others’ lives in the process of knowing what life is. Their many talks also lead to Honda’s affectionate nickname, Copper, after their discussion about Copernicus and his heliocentric theory. The experiences of Copper are at first hand, unfiltered, and brand new while his uncle takes a journalistic approach, documenting the moments as their own individual and interconnected events. The remarkable and clever attributions of the world’s leaders, martyrs, saboteurs, saints, and thinkers’ efforts from hundreds of centuries and millenniums ago to one’s life now and its purpose moving forward is not just Yoshino’s story, it is everyone’s story, the story of the human race. Beyond wishful thinking, more than the vicarious absence of self, How Do You Live? prepares a slice of pie in the sky you can reach out and taste. By accepting and elevating one’s sensations for each doubt, fallibility, fear, foible, folly, forgiveness, misery, regret, sadness, suffering, and joy, there will be discovery and self-discovery for life’s big question: what does it mean to be truly human?

Final Rating:

BookFireRate

It’s Lit!

Egg Marks the Spot (Skunk and Badger #2) by Amy Timberlake | Book Review

Author: Amy Timberlake

Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: September 2021

Genres: Children’s Fiction  

Pages: 160

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“One minute everything is dark, and you are sure the worst possible end is coming. And then – suddenly! – a spot of blue sky.”

– Amy Timberlake, Skunk and Badger #2

The desultory duo from North Twist return with their staple sense of comedy and camaraderie, this time on a rock-finding expedition. Badger, the austere geologist, is conducting important rock work when Skunk, the goading happy-go-lucky chef, notices a rock missing from his Wall of Rocks: agate. Badger’s cousin, Fisher, a treasure dealer, purloined the rock that started Badger’s sedimentary hobby and career. In Egg Marks the Spot, Skunk and Badger seek to complete the collection before enjoying the Sunday New Yak Times Book Review over breakfast. With familiar and new faces, extended backstories, and a lesson or two met with mystery, the series continues to make strides for all ages.

A year later and this sequel has not dulled the original’s rustic panache. It maintains the hyperbolic world of the animal kingdom Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen have cleverly depicted. Throughout this tale, themes of greed and glory take precedent in subtle and solemn ways. Skunk overprepares, overpacks, and overwhelms Badger with his towering backpack in slapstick fashion. At one point, Badger worries so much that he forgoes nourishment from one of Skunk’s fantastic meals. Moments where actions speak louder than words and where words are measured twice and cut deeply are laudable. The only exception to this is perhaps in the exposition. It felt Skunk and Badger’s time in the woods was short-lived, despite the foretold danger of bears and the secrecy behind the chicken’s Quantum Leap powers, which has a bittersweet payoff. The pacing is convenient and simple, yet curious and expectant, but never cheap or forced. More unexpected turns as well as more background into Skunk’s personal history would have been welcome leading up to a promising albeit jam-packed ending.

Final Rating:

Green Rose

Skunk and Badger #1 by Amy Timberlake | Book Review

Author: Amy Timberlake

Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: September 2020

Genres: Children’s Fiction  

Pages: 136

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“Not everyone wants a skunk.”

– Amy Timberlake, Skunk and Badger #1

Animals paint an unlikely, but possible, analogy for humans in countless fables. Personified, they hold up a mirror to the reader, showing our imperfect nature. The animal kingdom, of course, is fraught with unforgiving tooth-and-claw indelicacies. Sometimes, Skunk and Badger teaches us, nature can be forgiving. Badger is a rock scientist and excavator who lives in his Aunt Lula’s brownstone. His work is solitary and all Badger requires is silent execution. A knock on the door interrupts his study, from rose-colored Skunk who is in need of a home and is offered room and board at the brownstone from Aunt Lula. Playful misunderstandings, magical hard science, and whimsical madness ensue for the curious roommates in the picturesque home ground of North Twist.

The characterization and onomatopoeic burbling of instincts are thoughtful and familiar. Badger and Skunk use the brownstone out of necessity, but the first’s austerity contradicts the latter’s audacity. The subtle ironies too (Skunk does not clean, but recycles) are welcome, unexpected spins on the all-work and all-play duo’s dynamic before they balance out. Amy Timberlake with Jon Klassen share a similar synergy comparable to Roald Dahl with Quentin Blake: stark, solemn, and remarkably silly. A poignant and palatable sense of change as good, or that anyone can change, and the contagions of cynicism, criticism, conformity, and complacency, Skunk and Badger paves the way for doing the right thing and for meaningful and respectable friendships, even with ourselves.                

Final Rating:

Green Rose

Bradbury Beyond Apollo by Jonathan R. Eller | Book Review

9780252043413_lgAuthor: Jonathan R. Eller

Illustrator: V. Tony Houser; Ray Bradbury Literary Works

Publisher: University of Illinois Press

Published: August 2020

Genres: Biography, Literary Studies, Science Fiction

Pages: 376

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“Science Fiction was an armature for Bradbury to place his explorations of the human heart, and his desire to see humanity properly launched into the larger cosmos.”

– Jonathan R. Eller, Bradbury Beyond Apollo

Is it enough to know someone you never met only found by time? Predicated on love, conviction and a healthy supply of dreams share the answer in this third installment from the biography trilogy by Jonathan R. Eller, Bradbury Beyond Apollo. The autodidactic author from Waukegan, Illinois lived a mixed albeit remarkable life of a man and a myth. He is a celebrated cultural commentator and liaison for humanity who had the preternatural understanding of the mysteries of life and death before he was literate. From being an autograph hound over the walls of Hollywood studios to convention-bending and genre-breaking writing, Ray Bradbury has gone far beyond his understated status as a storyteller using his past and pulled back the curtain of reality as a visionary to reach the future.

In the latter half of Bradbury’s career, the expense of celebrity and craft were in conflict and complicated his creativity, a condition of careful consultations with his childhood loves and creative control of his story adaptations for film, stage, and television. This transition into new mediums began after his first twenty years in the literary mainstream, starting with his popular pulp tales from the 1940s. With the short-lived Apollo missions starting in 1969, his moonward mission with the Great Tale of the Space Age became spiritual and political, social and personal, as the need for exploration off the page became greater than on the page. Public engagements, humanitarian causes, editorial specificities, and the refashioning of stories for anthologies and the mass media audiences made it difficult for Bradbury to pen anything original. What can be salvaged, however, is the belief in reinvention as rebirth, a means to never end a project by writing it in more than one format, for more than one audience. Meanwhile, Bradbury was able to weather these production storms through the denouncement of labels, dangers of fame, the fear of unrequited love, and the unfettered, ego-centric tunnel-vision and detachment from progress that denies all human potential and history, forward and backward.

Eller marks Ray Bradbury’s centennial birthday with the publication of this timepiece of a man who was a timepiece. Many of Bradbury’s readers knew his early work best, perhaps to the detriment of his later installments as a poet, playwright, and screenwriter. A first impression is rarely a last impression and his unique, amorphous path from stardom to the stars is a testament to the subversion of self in favor of the selfless. Bradbury Beyond Apollo does not pose a life after Bradbury, it witnesses and celebrates life onto another ad infinitum, with Bradbury’s vision for the future: a mirror to show you and I as us. The life of Ray Bradbury cannot be missed as much as it can be said in this sense: Ray Bradbury never died, he lived.

Final Rating:

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It’s Lit!

Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle | Book Review

Flat JacketAuthor: Jill McCorkle

Illustrator: Steve Godwin

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: July 2020

Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Pages: 320

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“A story is easier to fall into than your own life…”

– Jill McCorkle, Hieroglyphics


Memory and history share a disingenuous and diverting crossroads, much of which becomes a diluted and dilatable personal history. Hieroglyphics by Jill McCorkle, recounts the elder couple, Frank and Lil (look to the past), the first a history professor and the latter a dance instructor, from Boston, Massachusetts. They possess an unsaid understanding communicated on the visage of blunt and esoteric notes that last into their retirement in North Carolina. The younger couple, Shelley and Brent (look to the present), a stenographer and car mechanic, have an unofficial divorce, leaving this mother and wife to rear her unenlightened and impressionable son, Harvey, in North Carolina. Frank has unfinished business with his past and to complete it, he must visit Shelley’s home, his childhood home.

Two tragical epochs, Boston’s Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942 and the Rennert, North Carolina train wreck of 1943, challenge these tragical couples as they overlap each other in a time-bending way through mementos, keepsakes, notes, and personal effects. Much of Hieroglyphics is headspace work, a tedium that promises and processes mundanity. In this sense, memory is made a personal history where the past catches up with the present and vice versa. The innate truth (the absence of identity) and the adaptive truth (the loss of innocence) create a transformative internal conflict. The value of Lil’s hording tendencies and her hair-splitting plurality is not without its sincere reasons, as notional as they often are. Frank is a believable history buff, lost in times not his own as he comes to terms with a rocky childhood and an avalanching adulthood. Similarly, Shelley’s and Harvey’s inappropriate but wholesomely exaggerated use of escapism leave the mother and son stilted and siphoned as a family unit.

McCorkle’s novel succeeds in its sparsity or narrowness but also suffers from it. Circuitous paths lead to an ineffability, one that poses memory, however unreliable or indelible, as akin to living beyond any timeline’s marker. The bottleneck then, and a necessary one, is knowing what to part with and what to hold onto. The trouble is knowing and remembering the fragility and mystery of words said or written and unsaid or unwritten. Deciding between meaning and meanings, death’s forgetfulness and life’s displacement or life’s forgetfulness and death’s displacement, for posterity. Hieroglyphics leaves more unsaid than said through memory as history, leaves the pieces behind to be picked up again by the impromptu historians, and runs out of track long before the train has left the station.

Final Rating:

PillRate

Red/Blue Pill

The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele | Book Review

Eisele_LightestObject_PB_HR_rgbAuthor: Kimi Eisele

Illustrator: Pete Garceau, Steve Godwin

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: June 2020

Genres: Fiction, Sci-Fi

Pages: 352

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                       “Everything returns to its origin… Ready for repurposing.”                                            – Kimi Eisele, The Lightest Object in the Universe


Nothing is everything and everything is nothing in the grassroots, post-apocalyptic world of The Lightest Object in the Universe by Kimi Eisele. Similar to Jose Saramago’s Blindness, with a world that looks but does not see disparity past one’s nose, and unlike Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with its bleak sparsity and savagery, here Eisele presents human nature at a crossroads with nature. The global economy and digital grid society depends on have failed; no more internet, American government, military, big pharma, corporations, transportation systems. Bartering is the new currency and modern medicine, an outbreak of the common flu (pre-COVID-19) ravages populations, wagons replace cars, and the only means for communication is a pack of cyclists, a rumored cross-country mailing service. Out of this blackout comes a return to basics with activists ready for revolution, teachers holding on to the past and reaching out to the future, friends and strangers made familiar and new, and star-crossed lovers defying the hard times from separate coasts.

The Lightest Object in the Universe has vulnerable and likeable characters, more tolerable than despicable too. Even the more suspicious faces, like a self-proclaimed preacher toting salvation, are not without reasonable persuasion. South American civil activist, Beatrix Banks, and Carson Waller, a Pennsylvanian high school history teacher, create a liminal backdrop for a seemingly dystopian end. It is only after the couple lose contact that their true nature withstands their fears and complacency. Headstrong as she is, Beatrix learns she cannot fight the good fight alone, so she joins and fosters a community in her neighborhood. Carson Waller chooses to leave his city and travel west to document the global collapse and to be with Beatrix. While there is no single antagonist in Eisele’s debut novel (the occasional uncivilized gang or slightly unhinged lost soul), minor and tame as they are, she does offer one sure villain at the end of the sidewalk: unpredictable, sometimes unpreventable, loss.

The loss of normalcy and the self that society could never define before and possibly never had a grasp of. The loss of things and people taken for granted and overlooked. Our scatterbrained and slapdash answers to loss, in the form of grief, self-importance, commercialized distractions, flag-waving, or simply suggesting the “right” suggestion or solution, makes another inadvertent and possibly irreversible consequence, an unnecessary heaviness. In these moments, the destruction becomes a form of creation, a new page to write and rewrite upon. Small gestures of kindness, love, and good deeds are challenged and welcomed in these times of uncertainty, which ultimately gives more connections than disconnections, an unexpected lightness. Eisele has wonderful pacing, adding time and awareness where it has been lost, savoring the ordinary and laying it bare. The journey breathes through its remarkable and endearing encounters, short-lived but never gratuitous, and chokes at its destinations. More than a timely precautionary and predictive tale, The Lightest Object in the Universe demystifies the rarely seen, too often mythologized and heavily advertised, subtlety in humanity with waves of ease and vigor.

Final Rating:

GreenRoseRate

Green Rose

Prairie Fever by Michael Parker | Book Review

Parker_PrairieFever_pbk_HRAuthor: Michael Parker

Illustrator: TK

Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Published: May 2019

Genres: Fiction, Western

Pages: 320

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“Words written are said to mean more than words spoken.”

– Michael Parker, Prairie Fever

Literature about the late 18th and early 19th century American West attempts to capture a rustic yet robust era and culture in transition. A place too that lived beyond dictation and was possessed by the fortitude to expand the western frontier through ideas, some bad, others better, and few good. In Prairie Fever by Michael Parker, a boundless charisma conjoins two sisters from Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, head-in-the-clouds Elise Stewart and nose-to-the-grindstone Lorena Stewart, until a reported murder in the Kiowa County News and their retentive and inscrutable schoolteacher, Gus McQueen, jeopardizes their sisterhood. Elise is the younger sister who arguably never learns, turning facts into fantasy while personifying the family horse, Sandy, and its escapades. Lorena being older has no time to bend words, always precise in her speech and actions, as part of her wont to be prude. At the schoolhouse, Mr. McQueen is the outsider from Hibriten, North Carolina inexperienced in the teaching profession, numbing his sociability and sensibilities. The natural coercion between these three creates an inescapable, at times humorous, fractious trust and distrust in each other. They slowly realize their natures are both a fixed and fluid transitivity of love and cruel-to-be-kindness.

Three parts make up this pastoral and pictorial novel, each with a sense of depth equally distributed to both exteriority and interiority. Parker elevates the losses and denigrates the ego to consider the trepidations and triumphs in the landscape of life’s choices. He does this best in the enigmatic word choices, careful and deliberate as they are, hinting at the tumult and temperance of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era respectively. A confidence in communication and information also bodes translucent beliefs and disbeliefs in a tone as lilting as it is loud. Prairie Fever also does well to cast respites and rebukes with a multiperspectivity reminiscent of Small Island by Andrea Levy. Every word is held onto with conviction and gumption before they are challenged by and float away in the elements that change them and rarely return them. Words distort and sculpt, deviate and delineate, betray and justify actions. Those actions, those supposed scripted choices, easily meet an erasure and redrafting against the stubborn and spellbound hand’s desires. Prairie Fever is an oxymoronic trip, imbibed with dread-tinged hope, through the voice of time, seemingly invisible and slightly audible, that relays an ever transmuting historiography of human error, erudition, and efficacy.

Final Rating:

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It’s Lit!