Graphic Novel Review: “Beverly” by Nick Drnaso

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Nick Drnaso’s “Beverly” is an impressive graphic novel about the cruelty and hopelessness of suburban life. The art in Drnaso’s graphic novel is comfortingly simple. Panels are pastel-colored and made up of clean lines and simple shapes. This style contrasts dramatically with the darkness of the content, making it all the more jarring.

The stories in “Beverly” swirl around disappointment, loneliness and miscommunication. In “The Saddest Story Ever Told,” a housewife is excited for the opportunity to give feedback on a new TV show. She encourages her daughter to watch with her—it’s something they can do together—but it turns out the questions aren’t about the show, but rather the advertisements. Read the rest of this entry »

Journal Review: The Point Issue 11, Edited by Jon Baskin, Jonny Thakkar, Etay Zwick

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Original, witty, and rewarding, The Point magazine was created in 2009 by three University of Chicago graduate students and “founded on the suspicion that modern life is worth examining.” Playing on the word point and named after Chicago’s South Side Promontory Point, the semiannual publication goes far beyond our city’s borders in scope. All issues are made up of essays, a symposium on a topic chosen by the editors, reviews, artwork and an editors’ letter outlining the issue’s theme.

In Issue 11, the editors write about politics. In “On Purity,” they suggest that it’s impossible for ideals to remain uncorrupted, that “the ability to build an effective political movement, in addition to a passionate one, might depend on cultivating the kind of convictions that are able to survive contamination.” What sort of convictions might these be? The writers in this issue address that question. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Sex and Death” by Ben Tanzer

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Though Ben Tanzer’s new collection of short stories is mostly set in domestic spaces and everyday places like homes, airplanes, baseball fields, school events and Facebook, in noir fashion, “Sex and Death” is rife with femme fatales, con games, affairs, jealous spouses, pasts which characters can never entirely leave behind, and even some riddles, wrapped in mysteries, inside enigmas.

Most of Tanzer’s characters claim to be just “fine,” but they are simultaneously imprisoned by binds that tie, harried with work, and hellbent on not becoming their parents, “waiting for an opening, a weakness, something you can grab hold of, and then twist, pull, prod and arrange into something different and useful.” These openings are often made way by ennui, curiosity and unresolved pasts. A married man suddenly finds himself in unfamiliar sheets with “the moist smell of sex still lingering in the air” after seemingly-innocuous-though-ultimately-flirtatious exchanges with a married woman from his kid’s school. A widow considers reaching out to her late husband’s mistress, “the only other person in the world who might be able to mirror [her] feelings of love and loss.” A man flashes back to boyhood and tries to put certain recurring memories together to make sense of his parents’ failed relationship. A married woman, unsure if she wants to stay with “the husband who sometimes feels like a sibling or friend,” reconnects with an old flame on Facebook for a little excitement, until things get strange. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Bats of The Republic:” by Zachary Thomas Dodson

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Zachary Dodson’s ambitious debut novel “Bats of the Republic” reminds me of what reading was like when I was young. It seemed more of a four-dimensional (your whole world and beyond) activity. I think it was this way for everyone. I’m sure it’s related to how on-fire our imaginations were then and how they amped up every activity, not just reading. I hadn’t mourned the passing of my childhood imagination, but after reading this book I wonder if I had simply forgotten how it felt. With “Bats of the Republic,” Dodson has created a book that sent me back to that immersive, obsessive time when my book became my world.

Zach Dodson—formerly of Chicago where he co-founded Featherproof Books in 2005—created this reading experience by pairing an ambitious story with startling book design. The story has two trails. The first follows Zadock Thomas in 1843 as he journeys through Texas to deliver an important letter for his employer. He hopes for the opportunity to ask the man’s daughter—whom he loves—to marry him. The second trail takes place 300 years in the future and follows Zeke Thomas in a dystopian Texas as he deals with a missing and never-opened letter written by his grandfather. Letters from Zeke’s fiancée Eliza to her best friend Leeya, letters from Eliza’s long absent father to her, transcripts recorded by the government, and a novel within a novel, supplement these two story lines. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: “Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres” Edited by Marcela Sulak and Jacqueline Kolosov

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family resemblanceRECOMMENDED

“Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres,” is a collection of hybrid literature that provides a starting point for discussing and teaching “individual works that do not replicate any previously existing pattern of literary affiliation. Rather, they take features from multiple parents—multiple genres—and mix them to create a new entity.”

“Family Resemblance” is an excellent instruction guide, an exploration of hybrid literature, and an inspiration for writing students and writers in general. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Juventud” by Vanessa Blakeslee

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Vanessa Blakeslee’s coming-of-age novel “Juventud” transports us into the world of teenager Mercedes, the half-Catholic, half-Jewish daughter of the rich, isolated hacienda owner Diego Martinez in Santiago de Cali, Colombia. Diego is raising his daughter alone with the help of drivers and maids.

The mystery of Mercedes’ mother’s disappearance is just one of many enigmas with which the protagonist must contend throughout her journey into adulthood. Sheltered, naive and pampered, Mercedes is surrounded by a powder keg of drug traffickers and violence amid a country deeply divided between rich and poor, between the land owners and the desplazados. As she searches for love and involves herself in political protests, her father works to send her to an American boarding school to keep her safe from a world terrorized by the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia ) and the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional). But before Diego can ferry his daughter out of the country, Mercedes finds love with Manuel, a political activist and devout Catholic who changes her perspective on all she thinks she knows. As they plan for a tenuous future together, events conspire to change what Mercedes shakily envisions for herself and her young lover. Read the rest of this entry »

Fiction Review: “Home by Nightfall: A Charles Lenox Mystery” by Charles Finch

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Home by NightfallAuthor Charles Finch’s latest mystery, “Home by Nightfall,” features Finch’s British, upper-class detective Charles Lenox pursuing clues to two crimes, one in London and one in the country town of Markethouse where he and his brother, Sir Edmund Lenox, grew up.

The first puzzle is where did a brilliant German pianist named Muller disappear to after a concert he gave? He seems to have vanished into thin air, since no one saw him leave the concert hall, and there have been no sightings of him in London. In addition to this disappearance, a countryside mystery forms in the town of Markethouse when minor transgressions like small thefts and the inexplicable drawing of a young girl on a newcomer’s steps culminate in a knife attack on Markethouse’s mayor. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped” by Gioia Diliberto

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dvfA Diane von Furstenberg dress is a great equalizer. I held an informal poll on Facebook and discovered that friends of different shapes, sizes, coloring, lifestyle, location and wealth all had DVF dresses in common. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the garment’s popularity, because last year the company had sales of an estimated $500 million. During the early seventies, the wrap was selling at a rate of 25,000 per week, before ubiquity killed it in 1977.

In “Diane von Furstenberg: A Life Unwrapped,” Chicago-based journalist Gioia Diliberto digs into the rise, fall, rise, fall and rise of both the woman and the brand.

Thoroughly researched, it is a juicy biography of a fashion icon. Diane, the daughter of a concentration camp survivor, became a princess and blazed her way into America. She aimed to create body-conscious clothes that were easy to wear and affordable. When heavily pregnant, Diane made the rounds of New York retailers with her samples in a suitcase. Some executives refused to meet her then, but by the mid-1970s the wrap dress was everywhere. Read the rest of this entry »

Poetry Reviews: “Hazel and the Mirror” and “The Endless Unbegun” by Rachel Jamison Webster

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hazel & the mirrorRECOMMENDED

Tenderness and pain echo through generations of women in Rachel Jamison Webster’s haunting new chapbook “Hazel and the Mirror.” Each character struggles with leaving some facet of her life, whether the womb, her marriage, or her native land. As time shifts and voices intertwine, we confront troubling questions inimical to the human psyche: How does abandonment shift what is possible in our lives? Is trauma inherited? And what is released or contained in the undoing of a person?

Throughout “Hazel,” trauma reflects and projects through the mirror of time and history, revealing the void intrinsic to uninhabited lives. The struggle in motherhood to retain or to discover an identity separate and apart from a needy child casts a long shadow. Competing identities both repel and attract, as “the punishment of silence, the pummel of distance” obscure and injure the ties that bind. Read the rest of this entry »

Nonfiction Review: “Behind the Smile: A Story of Carol Moseley Braun’s Historic Senate Campaign” by Jeannie Morris

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RECOMMENDEDbehind the smile

“The year of the woman,” 1992, was a time of idealism and anger brought to the fore after the 1991 Senate confirmation of Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court. A Judiciary Committee of white men concluded that Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas were insignificant. Illinois democrats and progressive women were infuriated that Democratic Senator Alan J. Dixon had voted for Thomas’ confirmation. Carol Moseley Braun decided to challenge Dixon, and the account of her 1992 campaign as described by Jeannie Morris in “Behind the Smile” is riveting.

University of Chicago Law graduate, Cook County Recorder of Deeds at the time of her campaign, divorced, a single mother and a feminist fighting to be taken seriously in a man’s world, Braun represented the challenges women of all backgrounds face. EMILY’S List provided her with the first significant campaign donation. A good beginning, except that menacing clouds were forming in the shape of Braun’s campaign manager and eventual boyfriend, Kgosie Matthews. While controversies arose during Braun’s campaign, allegations of sexual harassment against Matthews sent to Braun in an anonymous letter could have ruined her; sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas had brought Braun into the limelight to begin with. Read the rest of this entry »