Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's

I assume like most people, my time spent blogging is "extra" time, that fortuitous time that sometimes falls within the tiny spaces flanking the every day responsibilities of work and family and which more often than not is consumed with catching up on "Lost." That said, I have very little time for full-fledged reviews of books I'd recommend, recommend you skip or fall somewhere in between on. Thus the new, occasional Poetic Desperation abbreviated review feature, "Recommendations, Skips and Hmm's." Enjoy.


1) "Dolls," prose poems by Tom Whalen (Caketrain Press, 2007). Whalen's "Dolls" is at once both infinitely creepy and saturated with a strange kind of sadness. The dolls that inhabit these prose poems terrify you at the same time they make you want to pick them up and hold them.

2) "Shutter Island," a novel by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, 2003). The basis for a feature film of the same name released in February, I picked this one up as research for an interview I'm conducting in a week or so with Lehane in preview of a reading he's giving in my area. The book goes pretty much exactly where you think it's going to, but Lehane's great talent is in keeping you reading regardless. The dream sequences are fantastic.


1) "during my nervous breakdown i want to have a biographer present ," poems by Brandon Scott Gorrell (Muumuu House, 2009). There are some interesting lines here, but the only thing I really liked about this book was the lack of page numbers. Seriously: I tend to be slightly OCD when it comes to making sure the page numbers are truly consecutive every time I turn a page, and Gorrell's book at least took that out of the equation.

2) "Just Before the Black," a short story by actor James Franco (in the current issue of Esquire). This short is presumably from Franco's first story collection, "Palo Alto," which will be released in hardcover by Scribner in October. I like Franco as an actor. He's great. But if this story is any indication of his capacity for writing, I'll pass on his written work in the future.

I can forgive Franco, for instance, for calling the building the narrator is sitting outside "tan" in paragraph two, then calling it "beige" in paragraph six, but in graph six when he writes, "The building is beige, but the shadows make it shadow-color," he loses me altogether. "Shadow-color"? That's just lazy writing. Was the sky sky-color? Was the car car-color?

Actually, we find that out in the trainwreck that is paragraph five, where he describes the car using the phrases "Grandpa's old blue boat" and "Grandpa's blue machine" within a handful of words of each other. We get it: It's Grandpa's car and it's blue.

Then we have graph seven, where Franco writes, "Joe smokes. His window is all the way down, and he breathes his smoke out the black gaping gap." A "gaping gap"? Maybe it's just me, but I usually assume a gap is gaping without having to be told. The phrase reads like a Dr. Seuss lyric.


1) "How to Take Yourself Apart / How to Make Yourself Anew," prose poems by Aaron Burch (PANK Press, 2010). I say prose poems, but they could be flash fiction. Whatever. Unfortunately, this collection had two strikes against it before I even started reading: 1) It's a perfect-bound square, a structure that for me is always aesthetically annoying and always makes me feel like I'm reading a "Mr. Men" book; and 2) Why does the title say "Anew"? Why not just "New"? I realize "Anew" hearkens back to the "Apart," but it sounds clunky. Anyway, I liked the middle section of the three, but the other two did nothing for me. I'm mixed on this one.

2) "Wolf Parts," short fictions by Matt Bell (Keyhole Press, 2010). I usually dig Bell's work (what I've read of it), but not this one. I pre-ordered it through Bell's site and received an instant audio download, which I couldn't even get halfway through listening to before canceling my order for the book. It's not the writing; the writing is fine. It's the subject matter. It's billed as a "dark, fragmentary retelling" of "Little Red Riding Hood," and it is that, but it also touches on what to me sounds like child sexual abuse, which I don't really want on my bookshelf. If you can get past said issues with the subject matter, however, it's probably a decent read.

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