Review of Berit Ellingsen’s VESSEL AND SOLSVART

Vessel and Solsvart
Berit Ellingsen. Snuggly Books, $10 paperback (110p) ISBN: 978-1943813261


Berit Ellingsen’s work is some of the most exquisite, darkly beautiful fiction you’re ever likely to encounter. Minimalist in structure, yet spilling over with symbolism, themes and weighty truths, Ellingsen’s fiction is uncanny and her style is instantly recognizable. Ellingsen’s latest offering, the pocket-sized collection Vessel and Solsvart from Snuggly Books, gives the reader everything they’ve come to expect from Ellingsen—stark landscapes, enigmatic characters, eco-apocalyptic warnings—and more.
     Vessel and Solsvart houses five short stories and each is as meticulously crafted as the rest. When I talk about Ellingsen’s singular style, here’s a taste of what I’m getting at:

“The new heat reaches us from the seeping marsh, the lichen-veiled trees, and our soft bedding of moist sphagnum moss. The water, which used to be as cool as a mallard’s feet, is now as warm as bat blood, the trunks that were hunched and slowly being choked by vines stretch like flowers in the sun, and the glistening purple earthworms that used to peek up through the moss are no longer here.”
 
     These are merely the opening lines of the opening story, “Vessel and Solsvart” and everything that

Review of Mark Gurarie’s EVERYBODY’S AUTOMAT

Everybody’s Automat
Mark Gurarie. The Operating System, $16 paperback (113p) ISBN: 978-0-986-05054-1

     Mark Gurarie explores the vast capabilities of musical language and how the composition of words can invoke subtle meaning and lyricism in Everybody’s Automat. Gurarie’s words penetrate readers as if he’s been hiding in a corner of everyone’s lives, capturing the strange interactions, failures, and memories that plague us. This collection stands as an ode to music. It’s also a lamentation of our sorrows and mistakes and how we speak to each other.
     Gurarie’s title is extremely interesting in its function within the collection. An automat, being a kind of fast food eatery that serves its goods through vending machines, is especially fitting for Gurarie’s poems. He writes for the everyman through his poems, serving readers their fears and disjointed thoughts. His collection is “everybody’s automat” which implies a very universal kind of world and experience.
     Another important aspect deeply embedded within his work is the influence of John Cage and Erik Satie – both esteemed and celebrated music composers – which appeals to Gurarie’s innate musical proficiencies with language. It is apparent that he highly regards these two figures, and attempts to combine this admiration within his diction and composition.

Review of Jeff Fearnside’s MAKING LOVE WHILE LEVITATING THREE FEET IN THE AIR

Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, and Other Stories of Flight
Jeff Fearnside. Stephen F. Austin State University Press, $18 paperback (175p) ISBN:  978-1-62288-103-1

Jeff Fearnside’s Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, and Other Stories of Flight is full of protagonists busting out of oppressive predicaments. Kids rebel against their parents. Their liberation takes place outdoors and is short-lived but transformative: the little boy in “Nuclear Toughskins” cuts the legs off his new jeans; John, in “Every Living Thing That Moves” evades his father’s abuse and falls into a relationship with his pastor’s daughter; and Ryan, in “Maps & Compasses,” pursues a buck in the wilderness.
     More complex than their adolescent peers, Fearnside’s female protagonists break free of the fictions that have paralyzed their lives. Elly, in “She Was a Winter,” and George’s wife, in “A Story of My Very Own,” ruminate on their relationships with their mothers. Haunted by the Cathars, a twelfth-century heretical sect, Elly questions wake and burial rituals while George’s wife finally lets go of the marriage she left years ago. In contrast, Minnie in, “Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air,” focuses on the bodily life; and schemes to satisfy her boyfriend while still retaining her financial independence.

Review of Dalton Day’s EXIT, PURSUED

EXIT, PURSUED
Dalton Day. Plays Inverse Press, $12.95 paperback (88p) ISBN: 9780991418350


Exit, Pursued
is a complex and ambitious collection of 41 one-act plays in verse, most of which centre around the ever-shifting perspectives of characters, Me and You. Dalton Day, with light-hearted whimsy and a contrasting burden of retrospect and sadness, uses Me and You as a means to deconstruct the very essence of personal identity.
     In the reading it's hard to decipher whether the author wrote these plays as performance pieces, or if the scripts are a conduit for poetic expression in and of themselves. After all, 16 of these nuggets of poetry contain no dialogue whatsoever. To further complicate the question of performance, the audience in one of the plays must systematically approach a dialogue engraved oak tree and read the next line out loud before returning to their seat. In fact, the audience is a character of almost equal load-bearing significance as the ubiquitous Me and You. And this is where it gets interesting. A little more is required of the reader here, a retraining if you will, a process of detaching oneself from a longstanding concept of what words like, me, you, us and them actually mean, to the point where the reader's own identity is deliberately taken apart by the author.
     Each of the collection's installments begins in humorous fashion, with lengthy, descriptive and increasingly absurd titles. The first play has almost as many words in its title as its dialogue does in total. It is this somewhat fanciful approach that adds a certain subtlety to Day's melancholy, and a depth of poignancy to the many segues into the larger questions which concern themselves with death, loneliness, an overriding uncertainty and an anxious desire for direction.

Interview with the author: Ben Hersey

Ben Hersey is a writer & performer who lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts. His book, The Autograph of Steve Industry, was published by Magic Helicopter Press. Recently I connected with Ben to learn about his book, the stage antics of his old band Viking Funeral, and what Massachusetts means to him.

**

Mel Bosworth: You wrote a book!

Ben Hersey: Yup. Years in the making. Steamrollers was/is a real band. Been around since at least 2000, played about 30 shows, at most. We write all the songs (more or less) live and pretend that we're a shitty bar band in a shitty venue somewhere north of Boston. I got really excited by the weird shit that was coming out of our shows and started taking notes and arranging a series of possible stories around this character I played in the band. The character took off. Lots of live shows and years stewing in the gore of Mass culture and history.

MB: You good at pool?

BH: Not good at pool. In the mid 90's I spent so many nights in a grungy candle-pin bowling alley / pool hall in Malden that we all just called "Charles St." I'd stare at pool tables and the games people played and got to know the people playing and the jukebox music (Crimson and Clover, Hotel California) but I never played. Never felt the game speak to me. Pool was never as interesting to me as the people playing it and the situations going on in the cigarette smoke with the filth on the floor and the walls. I went there again and again. I loved it there for awhile.

Review of Farideh Razi’s Vis & I

Vis & I
Farideh Razi. Translated by Niloufar Talebi. L’Aleph, $11.15 paperback (112p) ISBN: 978-9176372449


Farideh Razi’s Vis & I takes place during the Iran-Iraq War. The plot of the novel is simple: At 2:20 a.m., Pardis makes a last ditch effort to intercept Ramin at the Tehran Airport before he flies out at 3:30. Riding in the back of the taxi, Pardis experiences a series of flashbacks as fire-flowers blossom on the night sky. Aware of “the driver’s crusty eyes” watching her “incredulously from … the mirror,” Pardis realizes that she is “talking out loud.” She is falling apart, with former crises erupting into the present, each flashback flaring and illuminating some aspect of her past.      
     Most of Pardis’ flashbacks depict the lived experience of the Iranian middle class during the 1980’s. References are made to the minutiae of war: the power goes out several times a day, gas and car parts are rationed, and a woman searches the rubble for her son. At this point, the novel could be set during any modern war. Read further and the field narrows. Pardis, the main character, pines for the days when they sunbathed, the days when she taught, when her lover composed and their friend, Ahmad, wrote. Glimmerings of Khomeini’s Iran, with its persecution of its intellectuals and oppression of women, begin to surface. She remembers visiting their friend Ahmad, on whose head “they” had “trickled monotonous drops of water, drop by drop.” He was, she noted, “without spark, or words.” Venturing outside to enjoy the night sounds, she and Ramin are set upon by security guards and “are caught among brutal hands and arms taking their turns.” The driver drives. Bombs fall.  Pardis, whether she knows it or not, is “without spark, or words.”

Review of Ben Hersey’s THE AUTOGRAPH OF STEVE INDUSTRY

The Autograph of Steve Industry
Ben Hersey. Magic Helicopter Press, $16 paperback (303p) ISBN: 978-0-9964143-2-6

“...love is hot rain, you get caught in it, you get scorched, period.” So says the narrator Steve Industry in Hersey’s outstanding debut about an eastern Massachusetts man struggling day to day to keep himself and his relationships from shattering into a million pieces. Told in four seasons beginning with summer, the book is a prose explosion of personal vision and human connection. Steve lives his life with a frantic poetry, juggling work (batting cage manager and bus driver) and play (vocalist and harmonica player in the band the Steamrollers) and family (wife Saundra and five-year-old daughter Nancy). Things begin to unravel for Steve when Saundra grows weary of his particular brand of affection (“...my wife is always trying to get me to love her a little less psychedelically…”) and she begins to challenge his life choices. Torn between his responsibilities as a family man, his deep loyalty to his friends and bandmates, and his sense of self and place, Steve drinks, snorts, and howls his way through, sometimes gleaning his finest insights via the precocious wisdom of his daughter. After kindly reprimanding her one day for using a curse word, things play out thusly: “She said, ‘But, Daddy, I’m a grown woman.’ I looked at her and it was fucked up because I realized in that moment that I was looking to see if she was correct. Yesterday was twenty minutes ago or twenty years ago, what do I know?” The real joy of the work is the way the hyper-kinetic prose gushes with emotion and heart, but never in an overwhelmingly sentimental way. Hersey’s innovative analysis/poetic breakdown of the life experience is a pure pleasure to behold. (December 2016)

Purchase The Autograph of Steve Industry HERE.

Read an interview with Ben Hersey HERE

Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight. Visit him at melbosworth.com