Show Us Why Your Tongue is Covered in Hooks: Review of Jarod Roselló’s The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found

The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found
Jarod Roselló. Publishing Genius, $14.95 paperback (210p) ISBN: 978-0-9906020-4-0

            In Sandra Beasley’s poem, “To the Lions,” the speaker exhorts the lions to find their true feral nature: “Time to stop lifting the wallet/ from the corpse’s pocket./ Time to gather your most/ fuckable queens.”  At the end of the poem, she delivers one last command: “Stop this kitty kitty nonsense,/ this apologetic yawning./ Show us why your tongue/ is covered in hooks.”  In the wake of Cecil the lion’s shooting by the now-internet-famous dentist, and the subsequent backlash against prioritizing animal deaths over human deaths (especially POC deaths), The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found fits in perfectly.
There are two parallel narratives in The Well-Dressed Bear Will (Never) Be Found: the text, which tells the story of a persistent wrong number, and the artwork, which tells the story of the Well-Dressed Bear’s persecution.  Although seemingly separate, they occasionally merge within the artwork.  The wrong number that rings, again and again, evokes Murakami while the menacing streets filled with hooded figures and helicopters beaming searchlights evoke a kind of noir/sci-fi mystery.  Rosello does an excellent job in finding the strange in the ordinary and making the unfamiliar familiar.

Review of Bud Smith’s F 250

F 250
Bud Smith. Piscataway House, $13 paperback (236p) ISBN: 978-0996352659

                From the very first pages of Bud Smith’s recently released novel F 250, I felt myself in familiar territory. Spider Bar could have easily been Lucky’s back home, and the characters crashing through the novel’s pages had the faces of friends and enemies, drinking buddies, guys in the band and that one dude who always hung around for every show, hoping someone would spot him a beer. In short, Smith’s tale of music, mayhem, bad decisions and lost dreams is as authentic as it gets. Many a novel has tried to walk the line Smith takes here and the story ends only in hipster posturing and pretention. Without a doubt, Bud Smith’s F 250 is the real deal.
            With this in mind, I’d have to say that F 250 is for real readers of this genre as well. With an abundance of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, this isn’t your mama’s novel. The main character Lee Casey is floating through life on a tide of desperate, drugged-out friends and half-way talented musicians. The fact that Lee’s main band, Ottermeat, is a noise band is indicative of Lee’s life; it’s messy, distorted, full of heart, but often directionless. A description of Lee playing a gig in a nearly empty bar perfectly captures his state of mind: “I tried my best to fake it through the songs, but it was pretty obvious that shit was all wonky. It was just me and Seth up there; I didn’t have any place to hide.”
            F 250 is weak on plot, but in this case such a deficiency works because it mirrors Lee’s life. In many ways, F 250 is an intense character study. It is the relationships in Lee’s life—with his friend and drummer Seth, with two listless but sex-crazed girls K-Neon and June Doom—that are at the core of this story. The actual events that throw these characters together are second to how they react with one another: pin-balling into each other in volatile, often humorous and often heartbreaking ways. In one of the most honest passages in the novel, as Lee contemplates the convoluted love triangle he has wandered into, the crux of both the character and the story is illuminated: “I took whatever opportunity presented itself to show them the depth of my oddness and the way I belonged nowhere and everywhere at the same time.”
            In contrast to the fluidity of Lee’s character, Bud Smith’s prose style is staccato and sharp. His sentences smash into one another in a cacophony of hyper-realism that sounds overwhelming, but works perfectly on the page. Smith’s attention to detail is spot on and while at times perhaps too much information was provided, the world that is spray-painted across the page is raw and vivid. Bud Smith reminds me of a young Bret Easton Ellis, if Ellis were slumming it in New Jersey. With F 250, Smith has most certainly stamped out his mark and I can’t wait to read what he hurls at us next. (May 2015)

Purchase F 250 HERE.

Reviewer bio: Steph Post is the author of the debut novel A Tree Born Crooked. Her short fiction has most recently appeared in Haunted Waters: From the Depths, The Round-Up and Stephen King’s Contemporary Classics. She currently lives, writes and teaches writing in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Review of Ben Tanzer’s THE NEW YORK STORIES

The New York Stories
Ben Tanzer. Chicago Center for Literature and Photography, $14.99 paperback (224p) ISBN: 978-1939987334

Cheever may have swum through the calm pools of suburban New York, but in The New York Stories, Ben Tanzer fights the floodwaters that have the power to mold and destroy entire communities.

The New York Stories is a combination of three previous volumes by Tanzer: Repetition Patterns (2008), So Different Now (2011), and After the Flood (2014). While each catalogs life in Two Rivers—a stand-in of sorts for Tanzer’s hometown of Binghamton, NY—they do so much more than that. Throughout, Tanzer has his characters battle with the mundane as well as the life-changing in small town America. In “The Babysitter,” for example, the narrator wrestles with memories he has of his babysitter, Tracey, and her friends. While everything—from sleeping around to having babies out of wedlock with teenagers—seems to be going on around him, the narrator sits and observes, steady as a rock. Towards the end, he says, “And me, I never leave the neighborhood. I don’t see any reason to. It’s quiet and I like it that way. I stay long enough, in fact, to watch everyone eventually move back.”  It’s this point of view—that of the diligent observer—that makes Tanzer’s stories so rich and so engaging. His eye for detail is the eye that his characters use to get through life.

It is Better to Travel in Hope than Arrive in Despair*: Review of Greg Shemkovitz’s LOT BOY

LOT BOY
Greg Shemkovitz. Sunnyoutside Press, $16 paperback (272p) ISBN: 978-1-934513-49-1

There are few places worse than a waiting room.  Whether you’re waiting to see a doctor or just waiting to get your car fixed, it’s a terrible process.  Best case scenario, you spend a bunch of money and return to homeostasis.  Worst case scenario, whatever you’re trying to fix is beyond repair.  Either way, you remain in a state of anxious indeterminacy until someone more knowledgeable than you (and you hope, as trustworthy) gives you the news. 
This sense of anxiety and the desire for something better infuse Lot Boy by Greg Shemkovitz.  Set in the bleak winter landscape of Buffalo, Eddie Lanning, son of “Big Pat” Lanning, spends his days at his father’s Ford dealership as the resident lot boy.  Emptying the oil drums, sweeping the floor, detailing the cars, going on parts runs—all of these are the menial tasks that occupy the narrator’s day.  He stomps around, full of rebellion and a bad attitude, wanting nothing more than escape—to get away from his crass and ill-tempered father, to get away from the drudgery of the dealership, to get away from the endless snowy fields and strip malls of Buffalo. 
Each night, he only makes it as far as a joy rides around town in one of his father’s cars, occasionally getting picked up by the police.  The opportunity for a more permanent escape presents itself in one of Spanky’s schemes, a mechanic whose catch phrase is “Shit’s fucked up, dude, you know?”  They will order extra parts and sell them to one of Spanky’s associates, a terse man with linebacker goons.  From the outset, it is obvious what a terrible idea this is.

Review of Edward Mullany’s THE THREE SUNRISES

The Three Sunrises
Edward Mullany. Publishing Genius Press, $16.95 paperback (on sale for $13.95) (408p) ISBN 13: 978-0-9906020-2-6

If you’re familiar with Edward Mullany’s previous books or his comics, you’re no stranger to his balance of humor and creeping dread, how one image can give you a feeling you can’t quite place.  His trilogy within a trilogy, The Three Sunrises, continues his previous works’ apocalyptic themes, offering conclusion without resolution. While Mullany’s first two books in the trilogy were poetry collections, The Three Sunrises is a collection of three novellas.  It’s as epic as three apocalyptic books in one can be, but it’s also quiet.  You leave the book feeling you’ve been on a journey, but you don’t feel the weight of 400 pages.

The first novella, “Legion,” is told in short chapters.  It starts out episodic and becomes more and more linear as we follow a first person narrator through his day to day.  There is always something a little off with his world, and the story is peppered with absurdity, wit, and terror—from a run-in on the subway to screwdrivers falling from the sky to not remembering a single instant of buying dish soap—as we edge toward his world’s demise.

The second, “The Book of Numbers,” is a straight narrative, but the twists and the stops and starts are anything but straight.  This journey story transitions the way dreams do as we find ourselves in stranger and stranger worlds with imagery reminiscent of Revelations.  But it’s a journey that leads us back to beginnings and back to middles that made this reader feel she and the characters were in purgatory, which feels appropriate for the middle story.

The final novella, “The Three Sunrises,” returns to short chapters as the narrator tracks a man who is his exact double through the city.  As we’ve come to expect from the book, this is only the beginning of our narrator’s journey.  In fact, many of the characters throughout the book become desensitized to the twists in their stories, commenting that it would be stranger if something didn’t happen.

What makes these stories stand out among other journeys to the end (or to the never-ending) is the narration.  Whether in first of third person, the voice is polite.  It’s observational and measured, whether discussing the mundane or the biblical.  Even when expressing emotion, there is a remove as the narrators rephrase sentences, searching for accuracy over pathos.  And this not only adds to the peculiarity of the characters, but it also lets the image and action take over.  Often the narrator ends a scene right when a different kind of story would push forward to action and rumination.  Instead, we are left to finish the scene or the meaning.  We are left to laugh, shudder, or—more often—both. (June 2015)

Purchase The Three Sunrises HERE.

Reviewer bio: Christy Crutchfield is the author of the novel How to Catch a Coyote.  Her work has appeared in Tin House, Mississippi Review, Salt Hill Journal, Juked, and others.  Visit her at christycrutchfield.com

Review of Christy Crutchfield’s HOW TO CATCH A COYOTE

How to Catch a Coyote
Christy Crutchfield. Publishing Genius Press, $12.95 paperback (208p) ISBN: 978-0988750388

How do you survive a family? That is what is at the heart of How to Catch a Coyote. In Christy Crutchfield’s first novel, she lays everything out for the reader – an entire family history from start to finish, first unplanned pregnancy and all. But the history has been ripped apart, the pieces scattered to the four winds. It’s a great creative leap by the author, who shows us the collective patchwork of each family member’s memories, skipping back and forth between time periods. The primary focus goes to Daniel, the youngest of the Walker clan, who begins the novel writing a sort of family history for a college writing course, finding the effort pointless. With a bit of confidence, Crutchfield has Daniel lay out all the bare facts in the very first chapter. It’s a brave move as most authors (and their editors) would be too scared to reveal it all from the get go. Crutchfield handles it with deft skill. She returns to each era, showing it to the reader from different angles and points-of-view, each family member telling their side like a southern Rashomon. So we already know about the parents break-up and what ultimately happens to Hill Walker, the father. But as we return to the past again and again, seeing how each family member saw it unfold, we find new details and revelations. We also see more of the stark humanity of each family member. Each as complex as the other. All a sum of their faults.

All of this would have been a mere literary gimmick if Crutchfield couldn’t match it with really outstanding writing. She has a great knack for being both spare in her prose, not wasting a word, and yet somehow injecting something bigger within the simple lines. Small incidents have larger implications.

The Stories We Tell: Review of Lori Jakiela’s Belief Is Its Own Kind Of Truth, Maybe

Belief Is Its Own Kind Of Truth, Maybe
Lori Jakiela. Atticus Books, $14.95 paperback (290p) ISBN: 978-0-9915469-2-3

We are in many ways defined by the stories we tell, both those we recite to ourselves and to others. Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe begins with a line that grabs the reader instantly: “When my real mother dies, I go looking for another one.” Belief is a moving memoir that sifts through the overlapping, conflicting, and at times buried stories of the narrator’s adoption narrative.
When asked what she wants to know in finding her birth mother, Lori answers “a medical history.” It’s a calculated half-truth—the reader knows it and Lori knows it, even writing, “What else I wanted: a name of each doll-layer, each little box, each person inside a person inside me.”
What defines family? How does family define us? In the wake of the deaths of the parents who raised her, Lori searches for her biological mother and works through those questions in what becomes the understandably emotional journey of a flawed and human narrator. As a writer, Lori Jakiela crafts a compelling version of herself as narrator, devoid of sugar coating. Readers of this memoir are on the journey with her, alternating between elated and upset, cautious and rash, fiercely independent and in need of familial support.