Review of Anthony Michael Morena’s THE VOYAGER RECORD: A TRANSMISSION

The Voyager Record: A Transmission
Anthony Michael Morena. Rose Metal Press, $14.95 paperback (168p) ISBN: 9781941628041

You’ve probably heard of the Voyager Record, the golden record (or really records) sent into space in 1977 with messages from Earth to intelligent life that might happen upon it.  You might have questioned the choice of sounds and images chosen by Carl Sagan and his team to represent Earth.  You most likely haven’t spent as much time thinking about or listening to the record as Anthony Michael Morena.  Morena has taken his self-proclaimed obsession with the Voyager Record and created a lyric essay that manages to be a critique and tribute at the same time.

In the book, Morena references his own love of mixtapes and playlists, and what is the Voyager Record but a mixtape?  What is a lyric essay but a different kind of mixtape?  Morena artfully shuffles between the factual, the analytical, the imaginary, and the personal. The book is peppered with snippets from the record, ruminations on the politics behind them, imagined and tragic scenarios of aliens who come upon the record, playlists that could have been, Morena’s own life as an alien in Israel, and fictionalized vignettes of Sagan’s personal life, all orbiting each other and returning.

Review of Norman Lock's AMERICAN METEOR

American Meteor: A Novel
Norman Lock. Bellevue Literary Press, $15.95 paperback (208 pages) ISBN: 978-1-934137-94-9

At some point in this brief, pithy book, I caught myself wondering why I was turning pages so fast, why I couldn’t wait to find the next golden moment described in lovely, burnished prose, when I knew how the story ended already. It’s not a mystery, it’s not a puzzle novel, it’s a meditation on the Manifest Destiny era. The myth of the poor lad who comes from nothing and nowhere to make a fortune is an oft-told tale. Lock’s spin on that is to have the traditional humble lad, this one named Stephen Moran, as protagonist:

“While my father was out boozing, she'd read to me by the stub of a candle, a thread of soot twisting upwards from its pinched, meager flame. By her voice alone, she could raise up the old stories from the bones of their words and—lilting between shades of comedy and melodrama—turn the dreary space around me into a stage for my wildest imaginings.”

And while she’s creating the world anew for her son, she’s also priming the pump for his life-long belief that there is fate even if there isn’t a god to be found, since all the old fairy tales involve come-uppances and just desserts.

Review of Leaf Seligman’s A POCKET BOOK OF PROMPTS

Leaf Seligman. Bauhan Publishing, $9.95 paperback (96p) ISBN: 9780872332003

Memoirists, personal essayists, confessional poets, and diarists will get much use from Leaf Seligman’s A Pocket Book of Prompts, which challenges writers to engage with their lives. For writers who need help to get moving, Seligman’s book offers a gentle shove.

The prompts are open-ended and varied. For the taciturn, most prompts include follow-up questions to encourage more depth. Divided into two sections, “First Day Prompts” contains quick starter questions such as “If you could interview one person from history, who would it be?” In the right hands, this prompt might spark historical fiction or fever-dream poems. The other section, “Prompts for Deeper Reflection,” includes more elaborate assignments, such as completing a series of 5-sentence autobiographies.

This book isn’t for everyone. Some readers will be turned off by the New Age tone. And writers for whom personal reflection is creative kryptonite might not gravitate toward this book. But there are some prompts even for them. Several, for example, encourage writers to imagine fictional scenarios or interactions with intangible concepts (“Write an ode or a make-up letter to uncertainty”). And fiction writers of all persuasions will find this book helpful as a tool for character development.

As with writing prompts themselves, this book is what you make of it. Anyone looking to discover more about their “authentic self” will find a trove of possibilities here. And those wanting to start a daily habit of personal writing will find these prompts up to the challenge. (July 2015)

Purchase A Pocket Book of Prompts HERE.

Reviewer bio: Jeannie Hoag’s chapbook of poems, New Age of Ferociousness, was published by Agnes Fox Press, and her work has recently appeared in Divine Magnet.

Review of Hasanthika Sirisena’s THE OTHER ONE

Hasanthika Sirisena. University of Massachusetts Press, $22.95 paperback (160p) ISBN:

I’ll be the first to admit that I am mostly ignorant of the Sri Lankan civil war. Everything I know about Sri Lanka comes from reading works by Michael Ondatje, and, more recently, Nayomi Munaweera (whose debut Island of a Thousand Mirrors is an absolute must read). Hasanthika Sirisena’s story collection The Other One did not bring me any closer to understanding the facts behind the Sri Lankan war. It did, however, open my eyes in an astonishing, brutal way. With an absolute, unflinching drive, Sirisena’s stories both elucidate and explore the vestiges of the war and, most importantly, show how everyone who is touched by such violence is a survivor.

The Other One
is not a ‘feel good read’ and I doubt Sirisena meant it to be. Each story examines characters who have felt the effects of war in some form or fashion. From third country nationals working in Kuwait to grandmothers struggling to help their families come into the modern age, these characters all move within the shadow of sorrow and violence.

Review of Sheldon Lee Compton’s BROWN BOTTLE

Sheldon Lee Compton. Bottom Dog Press, $17 paperback (164p) ISBN: 9781933964898

In Sheldon Lee Compton's debut novel, Brown Bottle, we are immediately introduced to our protagonist - and on occasion antagonist - Wade Brown-Bottle Taylor, a complicated man whose contradictory nature reflects the opposing extremes found in his Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky, a place of vast loneliness, natural beauty and man-made madness.

The only aspect of life closer to Wade's heart than the warm buzz of hard drink is his somewhat fragile relationship with his nephew, Nick. Upon discovering his nephew's increasing appetite for pharmaceuticals, Wade Taylor takes it on himself to intervene, a decision that sets him off on his own redemptive path. And it is a pathway paved with deceit, betrayal and blood.

While Wade faces problems typical of poverty-stricken Appalachia, in many ways he is a portrait of everyman. His battle is a familiar one as he struggles to make sense of the world around him, and, more importantly, his part in it.

Review of Leora Fridman’s MY FAULT

My Fault
Leora Fridman. Cleveland State University Poetry Center, $16 paperback (86 pages) ISBN: 9780996316712

     Leora Fridman’s poetry unveils an exposé of small instances that compose the idea of fault. The title itself is enticing – making the reader wonder what Fridman’s words might reveal. Is she confessing something, or is it something greater than that? It seems as though both of these questions are valid when reading My Fault. The ambiguity of several of the poems allows the reader to ask these questions, perhaps leaving without an answer. This vagueness is perpetuated through almost all of the poems through her simple use of language and sentence structure – most words do not require a dictionary at the ready, and the short sentence keeps the pace steady.
     One of the most poignant poems within this collection, due to its construction as well as its connection to the title, is “The Awning”:

I’ve roped myself
Out of another one.

I’ve left my favorite dress behind.
The way we move from crash to crash

Is like springing beasts, and I can’t take
Credit for the forward march.

Review of Norman Lock’s THE BOY IN HIS WINTER: An American Novel

The Boy in His Winter: An American Novel
Norman Lock. Bellevue Literary Press, $14.95 paperback (192p) ISBN: 978-1-934137-76-5

Repurposing great works of literature, famous characters from same, and/or dead authors in modern ways and to modern ends is almost overdone as a phenomenon. Really, writers. Stop it.

I said "almost overdone" because, if I know publishing at all, they will collectively ride this hobby-horse's hooves entirely off. There are a few of these cultural appropriations that are enjoyable, of course, it's statistically impossible that such a gigantic amount of work won't produce a shining light now and then. I think of Catherynne Valente's Russian fairy-tale reinterpretation of Baba Yaga in Deathless and grin all over my face. So the tap will continue to drip even after the shower's over. It ain't over yet, though.

It's in that silver river-shine light that I approached The Boy in His Winter. Is this another misappropriation or maladaptation of a novel that's been entwined into the USA's sense of itself? Happily, no...but.

I love author Lock's prose (my copy of the book has 10 Book Darts marking especially lovely passages or especially telling insights). It slides easy, inviting toes to dangle or shoulders to float, gently rocking.

“To ennoble is to diminish by robbing people of their complexity, their completeness, of their humanity, which is always clouded by what gets stirred up at the bottom.”