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Crab Orchard Review

Cover: One photograph by Allison Joseph © 2019 The photograph was taken in Little Rock, Arkansas.

CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

published by the Department of English

in print 1995–2018 online 2017 forward

ISSN 1083-5571

August 2019 ~ Book Reviews

CO R

CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

August 2019 ~ Book Reviews


CR AB ORCH AR D •

REVIEW

A Journal of Creative Works

Book Reviews

“Hidden everywhere, a myriad leather seed-cases lie in wait…” —“Crab Orchard Sanctuary: Late October” Thomas Kinsella Editor & Book Review Editor Allison Joseph

Founding Editor Richard Peterson

Prose Editor Carolyn Alessio

Managing Editor Jon Tribble

Editorial Interns Dylan Davis Ashley Durrance James Nash Beaumont Rand Kyle Stolcenberg

Assistant Editors Ian Moeckel Sarah Schore Web Developer Meghann Plunkett Board of Advisors Ellen Gilchrist Charles Johnson Rodney Jones Thomas Kinsella Richard Russo

August 2019 ISSN 1083-5571

The Department of English Southern Illinois University Carbondale


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Book Review Editor’s Invitation 1 Review of Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar by Ron A. Austin 2 Review of Known by Salt by Tina Mozelle Braziel 3 Review of Evelyn As by Christine Butterworth-McDermott 5 Review of Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec 6 Review of Tucumcari by Patrick Parks 7 Review of Quantum Convention by Eric Schlich 8 Review of Rambler: A family pushes through the fog 10 of mental illness by Linda K. Schmitmeyer Review of Letting the Rain Have Its Say by Donna Baier Stein 12 Review of Everyone Who Is Dead by David Welch 13 Review of Tell the Machine Goodnight by Katie Williams 14 Other Titles Received 16


Welcome to the Crab Orchard Review book review supplement! Crab Orchard Review is happy to bring back book reviews in our online incarnation. All reviews will be written by students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Please do not send Crab Orchard Review book reviews for publication consideration. We will consider books for review in the genres of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry—both full-length books and chapbooks will be considered. Books should be no older than three years from official publication. All books received will be noted on our “List of Books Received,” regardless of whether they are reviewed. Books for review consideration should be sent to Allison Joseph, Book Review Editor Crab Orchard Review Southern Illinois University Carbondale Department of English 1000 Faner Drive Carbondale, IL 62901 Additionally, PDFs of books can be sent to Allison Joseph at aljoseph@siu. edu. Thank you for your enthusiastic support of this endeavor. All the best,

Allison Joseph Editor and Poetry Editor Book Review Editor Crab Orchard Review

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Book Reviews Austin, Ron A. Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar. Cape Girardeau, MO: Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2019. 157 pages. $18.00. Ron A. Austin’s Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar is a book about caughtbetween-ness and not-quite-belonging as a boy struggles to come of age in North St. Louis. A novel in stories, it moves through Avery’s life from age nine to his teenage years, chronicling the dissolution and reaffirmation of his family’s bonds, the success and failure of his grandparents’ corner store, and the brutality (and hope) of everyday life in his neighborhood. The book occupies a place on the boundary between forms: it won the Nilson Prize for a First Novel, but its stories have been published independently in various (excellent) journals, and the whole is something like a novel with all the connective tissue torn out, merely implied; its prose is infused with the energy of comic books via all-caps onomatopoeias and (occasionally) large-typeface exclamations; the first words of the book— before the dedication or the table of contents—come via a photocopied newspaper clipping. Several of the stories are enhanced by the collage-like pasting of hand-written notes. This sort of modest formal experimentation might seem gimmicky in less talented hands; here, it’s a natural and even inevitable extension of Avery Colt’s still-maturing voice. This voice may be the book’s greatest delight. Avery tells the stories in past tense, but he situates the reader in the scenes as they unfold. The most explicit reference to the narrator’s present-tense situation—and to the book’s thematic goals—comes in the second story, “The Gatecrasher of Hyboria,” where a teacher at Avery’s southside private school “believed it was his duty to carve fatty hunks of hardened lower classness out of gelatinous, juvenile minds,” provoking Avery’s signature blend of stubborn, tender alone-ness: Mr. Dunn was a righteous crusader who crushed different cultures into a bland, monotone paste. In his gospel, assimilation was salvation. Even though I had mastered every Hooked On Phonics module and could speak Standard American English when I wanted, I chose to be an unclean heretic. Years later I’d be punished for my hubris by the fickle Gods of Language who jammed my code-switching-switch on “white-boy,” so sometimes black folks looked at me like a stranger or worse, an enemy spy, when I wheedled what’s up in thin, sanitized tones.

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This code-switching is borne out in the prose of the stories, where u

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Book Reviews Avery’s conversational narration butts up against the dialect-heavy speech of the characters. It’s a very satisfying mix—the abundant dialogue is authentic and funny and audible right there on the page, while the narration itself drifts into musical cadences and mixes the slangy with the lyrical. In some sense, then, it’s clear that Avery eventually escapes (or abandons, or fails to fully inherit) the culture of his beloved North St. Louis neighborhood. The rest of the book explores the question of how he—and the reader—ought to feel about that. In the affecting opening story, Avery (age nine) is tasked with helping his grandfather rid the attic of a mother possum and her babies. He’s caught between the desire to fulfill what he sees as his manly duty and the reality of being asked to drown the babies in the toilet with a wire hanger. Avery’s empathy for the animals and his resulting indecision allows a possum to squirm free and bite him; in the aftermath, as the wound pains him, Avery is scolded by his mother, mocked by his sister, and punished by his grandfather for failing to become the man they expect. Austin manages an incredible balancing act here, allowing Avery’s love and respect for his family to inform the reader’s view of them—even in their cruelty—and avoiding the poor-me sort of story that seems likely to follow from this setup. By showing the neighborhood’s inhabitants through Avery’s confused, frustrated, and compassionate eyes, Austin creates a whole cast of fully human characters out of even the most unlikely candidates: a dealer who cooks crack for a line of addicts; a boy who steals jewelry and shoes from the body of a dying man; a smooth-talking con man preying on the homeless; and a whole host of others scheming to cheat, rob, and bloody each other. He refreshes the expected tropes of lower-class urban strife by making them idiosyncratic and complex, glorified and condemned, and—like Avery—the reader is repeatedly torn between loving and loathing the people and the circumstances they represent. This is a book of utmost compassion and impressive moral complexity. It’s alternately comic and tragic, inspiring and bleak. The sentences alone are worth the price of admission. Austin shows us a life and a community in precisely chosen fragments, building momentum across the stories and achieving the emotional payoff of a much-longer novel. —Reviewed by Kyle Stolcenberg Braziel, Tina Mozelle. Known By Salt. Tallahassee, FL: Anhinga Press, 2019. 74 pages. $20.00. Salt, glass, blue, the gentle curve of a fawn’s neck—such are the small details of Braziel’s Alabaman life that are given permission to gleam by these

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Book Reviews attentive, wise poems. Because we cannot read about Alabama without thinking of its wounds, we might forget that the state is branded with scars worthy of admiring. Braziel demonstrates this alongside an unwavering gratitude for the place that made her—a place where the threat of a tornado thrums like blood beneath the trailer parks, where “[they] know the wind is a woman” for how deep “her seething songs…hum and rumble.” Not only is Braziel writing of her past with fondness, she is demonstrating what it means to love what has been given to you and to be a woman who stakes claim to a region where misogyny is as deep and as red as the soil. Reading these poems, we come to terms with what home means to us and, maybe, are encouraged to seek how we were chiseled into being. In “Trailer Fish,” the poet evokes this, writing “the trailer hitch juts out as proudly/as the lip of Elizabeth Bishop’s fish.” Though others may “toss it back,” the trailer, a thing once left unregarded, is worthy of appreciation in the poet’s trained grip. Writing of one’s home can be like satisfying a craving; other times it can be wrought with trauma and the bitter sweetness of childhood. Yet Braziel persists, finding worth in the grit and grime of southern places and domestic life’s occasions—strip clubs and trailer parks; a woman choosing to take her husband’s name—until they are reworked, made holistically new. The persona in “Allure,” a stripper set against the backdrop of some predictably seedy club, finds power in dressing as she “fingers the gold sequined thong,/then steps into it the way she’d cross a low wall.” Here, the wall might represent the barrier of male gaze. Or it is a metaphor for what an audience might disregard when coming across this persona, this poem: a recognition of female power ingrained in a woman’s decision to display herself to a room of strangers. Either way, she handles the hurdle with skill, comparing herself to the Bugs Bunny cartoon: she is a rabbit who performs before a room of predators “until each Elmer Fudd changes/from a hunter with a gun/to a hunter without one.” The persona knows how to bend the will of what threatens her, making passive what seems ready to pounce. In this way, Known By Salt is a book that reverberates with pleasure where pleasure has been forgotten, ultimately giving Alabama back its sweet home, just as Braziel, alongside her husband, has built herself a home—a cabin of glass in a remote patch of southern woods—by taking what we assume is fragile and vulnerable and fortifying it into “a clear view” she can use to her advantage. —Reviewed by Ash Durrance

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Book Reviews Butterworth-McDermott, Christine. Evelyn As. Burlington, VT: Fomite Press, 2019. 126 pages. $12.00. Evelyn As, Christine Butterworth-McDermott’s second full-length poetry collection, is a series of portrait poems about Evelyn Nesbit, child model and chorus girl. They follow her from a young girl who learns from her mother how to collect the rent from boarders because “they’ll be persuaded by your face,” to a young teenager who is sucked down and broken within the underworld of perverse, middle-aged men where “there’s a pain and there’s nothing/except the howling dark.” This is a narrative that uses the unrelenting darkness of fairy tales and myths as the mode to tell the stories of Evelyn Nesbit—ranging from Persephone to Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel to Snow White. In this narrative, we watch these stories read to her at a young age by her father, and then we see them enacted upon her. Wolves and Hades are disguised as men who hunt down Evelyn and drag her into the darkest parts of humanity. A red velvet swing, a mirror room, and a tower: things that, when read, are settings out of the fairy tale, but instead are very real and horrific moments in Evelyn Nesbit’s life. Nothing about Stanford White and Harry Kendall Thaw shines of love and caring, but all that Evelyn’s mother ever said to her rings in her ears as she stares back at these men, whose teeth are bared: “go with the nice man.” More often than not in literature, “flashes of light” are symbolic of epiphanies—realizations that changes and corrections are to be made—but for Evelyn Nesbit, Butterworth-McDermott has made “flashes” and “light” a dissonant chorus, a fragmented image that consistently pops around Evelyn when she is making a move. With these flashes, something is always “waiting in the wings.” Sometimes this is Stanford White or Harry Kendall Thaw. Other times, it’s knowledge, but never the kind of knowledge that serves a person well. It’s the darker kind of knowledge—the knowledge gained in the darkness of fairy tales, the kind that is only gained in hindsight. After the cameras are turned off, and the stage lights have faded, and the “three thousand/Chinese lanterns/hung by Stanford White” are brought down, there is a darkness that permeates the page, and we realize that Evelyn has had only artificial light guiding her through this world. This is fitting for a book that directly asks the question: “Is it necessary to see things clearly?” The answer is very clear, and it is absolutely devastating to know that sometimes the real light, the epiphanic kind of light, does not come until it is too late. At that point, as the speaker evokes, we are left calling backward, “Evelyn, my warning from this distance has no value/Evelyn, my rage has nowhere to go.” Still, this empathy, this heightened and confusing emotion, has so much value. Evelyn As is a collection of poetry that assembles snapshots of a life in

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Book Reviews order to serve as a source of real light for those who may desperately need it—those who may still be trapped in the artificial glow of what they are manipulated into believing they are worth­—to call attention to abuses we are still uncovering today. Christine Butterworth-McDermott has written a timely collection, and her voice absolutely has value. This voice is compassionate and resonant in this moment, serving as a sincere and guiding warning, always striving to reach everyone who has no one to tell them to “look for the wolves on your way down the path.” Butterworth-McDermott is a poet who we should all circle around as she tells us her stories. —Reviewed by Troy Varvel Czerwiec, Heidi. Fluid States. Warrensburg, MO: Pleiades Press, 2019. 100 pages. $17.95. Fluid States, the most recent winner of the Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose, is a curious book by a curious woman. Poet and essayist Heidi Czerwiec has given readers a book that is as elusive as the perfumes she lovingly evokes in the book’s first section, but a book that is also cagey and calculating in its evocation of topics as diverse as campus outrage, environmental damage, and the devastation of divorce. Czerwiec’s main tool is the lyric essay, a form that is defined by what it is not—it’s not straight autobiography, not prurient memoir, not cut-and-dried “factual” nonfiction. Czerwiec uses her poet’s eye and sensibility to lead her into unusual and difficult places as a writer, and she’s a gracious guide. The book’s first section, “Decants,” inhabits a world not many of us are familiar with—the world of precious fragrance. This is Czerwiec at her most poetic, and many of the pieces in this section are more akin to prose poems than to essays. Her voice in capturing the essence of the world of perfume is sure and image-laden, evoking the fluidity of her book’s title: And so, you select a humid night to extend the scent, and apply it. Mineral. Medicinal. Smoke curling from a stone bowl at the limbic, liminal doorway to a tomb. Outside, the smell of dry, reedy vetiver carried on a hot wind over sunbaked bones. And something animalic—a jackal, sinuous in the background. An ephemeral ghost raised briefly from the past. Czerwiec’s erotic prose comes after much research, however—these essays in the first section of the book are rooted in history and how history can be evoked through the bodily mechanism of scent. It’s a heady trip, and

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Book Reviews Czerwiec knows just what history to evoke to make us think about perfume as a medium for longing that lasts way longer than scent literally does. Later essays in the collection tackle such varied topics as cooking, mushrooms, and hiking. But her ostensible topics reveal deeper meaning— an essay about cooking is truly about the process of ripening and coming to fruition (if we can wait for it to happen); a piece about mushrooms is really a piece about the craft of nonfiction itself; and an account of hiking is really a exposé of a marriage in its last throes, though neither partner is able to see it at the time. Czerwiec’s gift is her ability to infuse her prose with the ambiguity of poetry, while still keeping us invested in narrative, in story. The most direct examples of what one might consider traditional nonfiction in this collection are “An Anatomy of an Outrage,” and “Sweet/ Crude: A Bakken Boom Cycle.” Both pieces take on controversial topics— in the first, Czerwiec describes the volatile mix that occurs with guns on a college campus, the militarization of students, and the spectre of school violence in the American workplace. In “Sweet/Crude: A Bakken Boom Cycle,” Czerwiec explores the rifts of community and commerce in North Dakota, a state she describes as being “like a foreign country, a flyover, it’s here, now, beneath our feet.” Czerwiec’s poet’s eye is still in evidence in these pieces, but the thorny nature of these subjects make her less interested in evocation and more interested in using facts to make us feel all the environmental disasters lurking in our ordinary work lives. Czerwiec’s voice throughout this collection is sure—she’s used her abundant curiousity to craft a book that reads like poetry but lasts in the imagination longer than any single poem can. The fluidity of this book will keep readers engaged and will make writers wonder just how Heidi Czerwiec pulled off a book about so many transitory and sometimes beautiful subjects. When a book is this fluid, it’s risking a lot. But Heidi Czerwiec, in Fluid States, pulls many different strands together for a book that’s worth lingering over, an alluring look into a writerly mind. —Reviewed by Allison Joseph Parks, Patrick. Tucumcari. Hamilton, NY: Kernpunkt Press, 2018. 176 pages. $14.99. Four pages into Tucumcari, author Patrick Parks sets the table for an odd, surreal road story. The narrator, an English language teacher with an odd sensitivity to light that causes him to float at night, has suddenly remembered that he may have once had a wife who now lies in Tucumcari, New Mexico. Upon realizing this, he is compelled to travel there, though he is not sure what he’ll find when he gets there. He also plans on taking his good friend, the terminally ill radio host Boyd Delmarco. What

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Book Reviews follows defies the expectations of a traditional travel narrative. Parks is not interested in depicting the classic journey of two friends, but rather a road trip through the narrator’s memory—from childhood playground scuffles to traumatic, emotionally scarring losses. And like physical road trips, there are unexpected stops and chance encounters that, in this more cerebral take on the genre, present a fascinating meditation on the fragmented and everchanging nature of memory. Parks grounds readers in his surreal world with characters whose traits are fleshed out through quirky anecdotes and memorable idiosyncrasies. Though we spend the majority of the story essentially in the narrator’s past, we get to know the curious Boyd Delmarco through the narrator reminiscing on episodes of his radio show. We also get to know a character named Osseo Fairchild—a regular caller into Boyd’s show who both stalks and threatens him—who readers never meet, even in memory. The specter of these characters hangs over the narrative, and their absence is what informs the narrator’s motivation to travel to Tucumcari. These characters live in an ephemeral dystopia where “ash drifts down, covering cars and clinging to the shoulders of summer shirts” and “Sadlooking men…don’t greet each other on the street” while they “walk off in the direction of the factory district.” This obvious nuclear holocaust imagery is compounded by the fact that the narrator’s dad was a soldier in the army stationed where the first atomic bomb was developed and tested. This sense of lasting, mushrooming destruction and decimation informs not only the setting but the manner in which we explore the narrator’s memory. Parks starts us at the radioactive edges of long-simmering trauma, then takes us closer to the traumatic epicenter, where we see what memories the narrator has involuntarily forgotten. Parks’ prose is well-paced, primarily broken into small chapters punctuated with frequent section breaks. This more experimental structure embodies the narrator’s snippets of memory in a manner that is both connected and constantly unraveling. Occasionally, the voice drifts into the future tense as the narrator projects what the trip to Tucumcari will be like. The idea of the trip is almost more central to Parks’ themes than the trip itself; it is clearly less interested in physical place than it is mental. But as I finished the story, I came to understand that the road trip in Tucumcari is not about getting somewhere, but rather how we get there. —Reviewed by Beaumont Rand Schlich, Eric. Quantum Convention. Denton, Texas: University of North Texas Press, 2018. 173 Pages. $14.95. The titular story in Eric Shlich’s Quantum Convention, winner of the

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Book Reviews Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction, primes us for the fantastical and the philosophical. The story begins with a bizarre premise: a man named Colin attends a convention where a multiplicity of his selves have gathered, each with a quintessential feature that separates him from the other Colins. He encounters fat, sarcastic, suited, and even mulleted versions of himself. Colin says, “The reason I came to Quantum is simple: I want to find Perfect Me.” Jane, his wife, is also at the convention, along with a hundred different versions of herself. Colin runs into one that resembles the Jane from his universe, though subtly different. The difference is consequential: Colin uses the opportunity to say to the facsimile what he could never say to his real wife: that he doesn’t want to have children. In a way, the story reads like a thought experiment on how to solve a breakdown in marital communication. The fantastic functions as a vehicle for an earnest exploration into the mundane, the real, the all-too-human. Colin is not the only protagonist in this debut collection of stories who seems to be on a quest for a more perfect self. In “The Keener,” an orphan girl struggles to be the best for-hire funeral mourner. “Not Nobody, Not Nohow” finds Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz, envying her co-star Judy Garland—a younger, more talented, more beautiful version of herself. Sheltered from the outside world because of his deformity, the one-eyed boy in “Journal of a Cyclops” wants to have a normal childhood and go to school like his twoeyed counterparts. In “Night Thieves,” Lyssa aspires to be an exemplary Christian, to love Jesus more than her own family. At the heart of these quests is the desire to fit into the greater yoke of society. The downtrodden protagonists want nothing more than to be accepted, to be redeemed of their inadequacies. Most of the characters in Quantum Convention fail in their quest for perfection. In “Lucidity,” a recovering alcoholic joins a lucid dreaming support group so that he can interact with his dead son—for whose death, we later learn, the protagonist is responsible. But he can’t seem to remember his dreams, much less control them. Nor can he repair his real-life relationships, like the one with his ex-wife. Either his protagonists’ lofty goals are unattainable to begin with, or they reach the carrot only to find that it doesn’t taste as good as they’d hoped. The one-eyed boy in “Diary of a Cyclops” learns the hard way why his parents kept him away from public school: just how cruel kids can be to one another. Lyssa wakes up to find that the Rapture happened while she was asleep, and because she didn’t love Jesus more than her family, she was left behind. We root for these characters, despite their inevitable failures and rejections. By the end of each story, we’re left empathetic to their plights, no matter how strange the worlds they inhabit. For example, in “Merlin Lives Next Door,” we don’t need a time-traveling wizard as a neighbor to

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Book Reviews recognize Geoff’s loneliness, but the wizard’s outlandish presence makes Geoff’s inadequacies, regrets, and fixed habits so painfully obvious. At the end of the story, after he’s betrayed Merlin, Geoff visits the deserted spot where his only friend’s hovel used to stand: Moonlight falling. A baby cries. Naked, on a mound of dirt, there in the middle of the pit. I climb down and take him into my arms. Younger than I’ve ever seen him. He’s colicky. A newborn. His eyes an empty blue. He hasn’t seen anything yet. He knows nothing. I rub his back. Whisper, shhh, it’s okay, shhh. I hold him up to the stars and say, see? Look. See? He falls asleep against my chest. I feel the barely-there weight of him. I watch his face scrunch, his nose twitch, like before a sneeze. His tiny mouth opens and closes in a yawn. I stay in this moment, knowing it can’t last, that time is mobile, time is swift, soon it will leave me here, holding nothing but my own arms. The baby symbolizes the many unattainable versions of Geoff: the child he’ll never have in his solitude, an earlier innocence that he can never return to, lives that seem too distant in time to grasp. After the convention, Colin returns to his own universe, to his own wife, who has good news for him: she’s expecting. “…I’ll tell her how happy I am,” he says. But we know this is a lie. We’ve seen a version of Colin to which his wife isn’t even privy—the real Colin, full of doubt. Whether the story contains wizards or introduces us to a self-help group dedicated to the art of lucid dreaming, the magic and strangeness of Quantum Convention works so well because it never gets in the way of the narrative, never becomes the focus of the piece, but serves only to enhance the relatability of these characters, reflecting onto the reader our own never-ending journey toward finding our better selves. —Reviewed by James Nash Schmitmeyer, Linda K. Rambler: A family pushes through the fog of mental illness. Pittsburg, PA: The Artist’s Orchard, 2018. 341 pages. $18.95. “It all makes sense now,” Steve Schmitmeyer says to his wife Linda Schmitmeyer in her memoir Rambler: A family pushes through the fog of mental illness. “The FBI. The Pinkerton police. Cobo security. The Detroit police. They’re all watching me.” Steve—who at various points is diagnosed with situational depression, bipolar disorder, and schizoaffective disorder, and over time is prescribed Prozac, Welbutrin, Lithium, Ritalin,

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Book Reviews Haldol, Risperdal, and a slew of other medications—is correct. The FBI is watching him. Throughout Rambler, Linda Schmitmeyer is confronted with maddening ambiguities: delusion or reality? Is he sick and how sick is he? Is it the man or the disorder that is causing so much pain? Steve’s psychosis offers him a clarity that eludes Linda and the rest of the Schmitmeyers throughout Rambler. The book takes the reader on a journey of misdiagnosis and lack of understanding, both medically and personally. Rambler is filled with phrases referencing how little the medical community understood in the mid-1990s. Phrases like, “It will continue for another four years, until a psychiatrist finally diagnoses Steve with chronic psychosis.” In the book, there’s a sense that the future has answers, but little is solved in the present. It’s why fog is the perfect metaphor for this journey—there may be an answer and some clarity on the other side, but when you’re in the middle of it, it’s impossible to see. In Rambler, metaphors are unforced. They are real and observed. Steve, a mechanic whose pride once came from being able to fix things, tries and fails to fix up the half-dozen defunct AMC Ramblers he’s collected as his mental health declines. Much like he can’t fix cars anymore, he cannot fix his mind. His perception distorts. When he can’t fix the cars, he washes the seatbelts of all the defunct Ramblers in order to sell them at a flea market. He oils the buckles. He drapes the washed belts carefully over clean bath towels on the couch. He is trying, but in this moment he can’t see that what he’s doing isn’t helping. Schmitmeyer says, “Still, I cling to the hope that with the right combination of medications, he’ll work again.” It’s unclear if she’s talking about him finding a job, or if she’s seeing him as a Rambler, that, with the right parts, can once again run the way it’s supposed to.  Rambler rarely reaches for the sentimental. It conveys, as Schmitmeyer says, “a silent sadness.” But every once in a while, usually in moments where helplessness and hope mix into a strange but effective cocktail, Rambler transcends. When Steve threatens to leap from their speeding car, Schmitmeyer rests her head on the steering wheel and gives up: His voice is shrill and unrelenting. I am crying. Headlights from oncoming cars dance in my tears. Fanciful. Surreal. Mesmerized by the brightness, I move away from his anger to a quiet place where there is no noise, no pain… Through the blur I sense Steve’s hand in front of me. Big and strong, a farmer’s hand. It lightly touches the steering wheel. Little movements. Back and forth. He’s guiding us through a curve to the safety of the straightaway… Is this how you stop insanity? Is this how you make madness go away? At its heart, Rambler is a woman’s search for normalcy in an abnormal world. While all Schmitmeyer wants is a “normal” life, Steve proudly dons

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Book Reviews a bumper sticker, stuck on upside-down, reading “WHY BE NORMAL?” The contradiction, at first, seems impossible to reconcile. But as the book continues, the phrase “new normal” comes up several times. Schmitmeyer seems to posit that those fighting a battle with mental illness may never have the lives they once had, but they can find peace or something like it.   Finally, Rambler gets at a major issue with mental illness today—its mercuriality. The term “mental illness” is maddeningly vague, but that’s only because our understanding of it is equally vague. A pinwheel of diagnoses and a turnstyle of prescriptions can lead to the conclusion that, as one man put it to Schmitmeyer, “It just doesn’t seem real to me.” But Rambler provides an exercise in empathy. It transports readers to a world where, even though the issue is hard to define, and solutions are difficult to find, the pain is real. The symptoms exist. And there can be peace on the other side of the mist.  —Reviewed by Ian Moeckel Stein, Donna Baier. Letting the Rain Have Its Say. American Forks, UT: Kelsay Books, 2018. 82 pages. $17.00. Letting the Rain Have Its Say, the newest collection of poems by Donna Baier Stein, begins with poems about strong Midwestern women, portraits of kin. The poet’s maternal lineage is recalled in an a evocative litany:

Days passed, identical as cornstalks in a field. Amidst those slender stalks I now see four strong women: my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and me.

The first was a keeper of bees, baker of pies, cook for two dozen hungry farmhands. The second, wooed under a clothesline of clean flying sheets, became a fresh widow at forty.

These are clean-living and utterly creative women who rule the hearth with practical virtue and considerable knowledge—in Stein’s poem “Tricks Aunt Ruth Taught Me,” readers are admonished to “Cast a careful eye about you—/look at the size of muskrat houses,/the depth of carrots sounding the soil.” The hard-won skills of these maternal figures contrast with the speaker’s present day losses and griefs, the “wooing” of luck that comes with the poet/speaker’s marriage. In the poem “King Kong,” the familiar trope of that classic film gets upended:

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Book Reviews

What a lovely mess it would be, if our big old dream —of you and me— stayed true. Splattered bubble juice, broken mirrors. Someone might get hurt.

Unlike the traditionally stoic female figures early in Stein’s collection, the speaker in the middle poems of Letting the Rain Have Its Say is a vulnerable one. In conversational and accessible poems, Stein documents the ache of a former marriage—“Even harmony would have hurt,” she says in “The Year I Didn’t Listen to Music,” and she tells us “Now everything’s locked/in finger-smudged photographs” in “Sometimes You Sense the Difference.” The book’s third section posits the speaker’s recovery from grief and loss in the world of language, nature, books, movies, and photos. This movement away from personal loss to the wider world allows for the possibility of joy again, as is evident in the poem “Trapeze”:

Even if noisy thoughts surge between you and the still silence of that photo, remember that fear can be contained, perhaps even loved. With luck, something unseen keeps you aloft.

Letting the Rain Have Its Say is a book of reverie and experience. Its imagistic and direct poems linger and welcome the reader into a range of life experiences. For this poet, imagination is an act of remaining present, remaining relevant, remaining intact. As Stein says in the book’s final poem, “The Yellow Brick Road”:

Imagine no distance between here and there. The moment of the big bang, your life no bigger or less important than that. —Reviewed by Allison Joseph

Welch, David. Everyone Who Is Dead. Tuscon, AZ: Spork Press, 2018. 70 pages. $18.00. The world of David Welch’s Everyone Who Is Dead is a lonely, provincial stage. Our lead actor, simply called the boy, is insulated in folk poetics—the rabbit, the fox, the moon—but Welch swiftly pushes us past these familiar fixtures with his second actor: the audience. All the audience wants is for

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Book Reviews the boy to tell them the truth. All the boy wants is to get away with it. Both are tall orders in poetry. The second poem in the collection starts with “I do not wish, the boy said, to be honest with you/and the audience followed him as he walked/ into the garden.” Of course, the audience doesn’t listen to the boy, nor manage its expectations of him. It’s a smart move in a collection that so often treads in the philosophical—it’s a Socratic dialogue, albeit a dysfunctional one, but it gives Welch a great deal of room to demand things of the boy, the audience, and the reader within the page. The audience questions the boy, confronts him, worries about him—it shifts between heckler and caretaker.  The poems themselves are strongest, for me, when Welch is triangulating between the folk, the philosophical, and the performative. Poems like “Decalogue”—a Ten Commandments from the moon—and “One Hundred Poems from the Chinese” are intriguing as ideas, but stretched out across the page they seem to have little weight over either the boy or the audience, and as a consequence, my role as a reader.  Formally, Welch alternates well between lengthy, sectioned poems, one-pagers, and surprisingly quick beats. “Narcissus,” which is only two lines, is surprising and impressive—more for its brevity than anything else. Welch’s contrapuntal, “Three Propositions” works well, especially for its placement near the end of the collection. It reminds us of the first images we’re presented with—the boy, the rabbit, the fox. Overall, I find Welch the strongest when he gives himself more than a page to work through the poems, though this may be greed as a reader more than a statement on how much space he needs to achieve his conceits.  Conceptually, I fixated on the performance aspect of the boy’s narrative more than anything else. I kept thinking of a quote that I probably mistranscribed since I can’t find out who said it—but it was something to the effect of “we go to the theater so we can see each other’s faces.” And, maybe because Welch put me in the mood for the philosophical, I then thought of how this collection could see itself. It must be in the acts of reflection and parallelism throughout; the moon demands that water should not be invented, rabbits and foxes replace vital organs, the river that the boy eventually rides out to the sea, his final setting. Everyone Who Is Dead is most effective for me when Welch lets his shadows, his set pieces, resonate longer than the end of the page. —Reviewed by Sarah Schore Williams, Katie. Tell the Machine Goodnight. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2018. 287 pages. $25.00. Happiness, like all human emotions, is an elusive concept. There are nearly

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Book Reviews infinite platitudes on the emotion. “Happiness is the key to life,” or “Money can’t buy happiness,” or “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” But we still don’t know what happiness is (other than dopamine). What is it that causes dopamine to release? All we know is that happiness is linked to dopamine, and different instances of reality induce the body to release the chemical. In Katie Williams’ debut novel Tell the Machine Goodnight, we take another stab at what it actually is. In the novel, the protagonist Pearl is a happiness technician. Her job is to run the machine called Apricity. Apricity is defined early in the novel as “The feeling of sun on one’s skin in the winter,” which feels apt. I say this because I like that the happiness machine isn’t “Joy” or “Elation”—it’s instead a happiness-adjacent feeling. It’s relief from the cold. In the novel, Apricity analyzes and diagnoses hiccups in human happiness. The machine reads a swab of DNA and, through the power of science, determines individual solutions for people. These happiness solutions take the form of “eat tangerines,” or “get a dog,” or, most strangely “cut off the tip of your index finger.” The suggestions don’t always make sense—in fact, they never do. But, then again, neither does happiness, and I think that’s the point. When we don’t know what happiness is other than dopamine, how do we know exactly what improves it? This is the ultimate goal of Katie Williams’ novel through its fascinating premise and detailed character exploration. One thing a reader would note relatively early is that happiness doesn’t seem to occur in most characters. They drift from milestone to milestone, some with more success than others. The protagonist herself, a so-called expert of happiness, has an anorexic son and a somewhat absentee exhusband. Her friends consist of celebrities, doctors, you name it, and there’s not one who defines “happy” as we’ve come to know it. But that exploration, I think, is what gives us apricity. It’s the brief moment of winter sun on our skin that propels us to discover what’s beyond the current day. Happiness is that which makes us reflect on life in both good and bad moments. The novel itself reads like if Wes Anderson directed an episode of Black Mirror—at times it’s horrifying, unsettling, and funny. It is a warning and an inevitability; it’s what happens when human life is directed by machines. There is no escape from the impending, descending chimera of the future slouching toward us at the same speed we slouch toward it, but there is a lack of fatalism in this, too. We can take the brief moment to feel the hairs on our arms rise as we step out from the shadow of a tree. —Reviewed by Dylan Davis

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Other Books Received Alleyne, Lauren K. Honeyfish. Kalamazoo, MI: Western Michigan University, 2019. 79 pages. $16.00. Babine, Karen. All the Wild Hungers. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2019. 168 pages. $16.00. Baker, David. Swift: New & Selected Poems. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. 179 pages. $26.95. Balbo, Ned. 3 Nights of the Perseids. Evansville, Indiana: The University of Evansville Press, 2019. 149 pages. $15. Barr, Tina. Green Target. Kingston, RI: Barrow Street, Inc., 2018. 82 pages. $16.95. Bell, Anna Lena Phillips. Ornament. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2017. 73 pages. $12.95. Bliumis-Dunn, Sally. Echolocation. Asheville, NC: MadHat Press, 2017. 74 pages. $18.95. Bombardier, Michele. What We Do. American Fork, UT: Kelsay Books, 2018. 78 pages. $17.00. Brauer, Barbara Swift. Rain, Like a Thief. San Francisco, CA: Sixteen Rivers Press, 2019. 86 pages. $16.00. Chin-Tanner, Wendy. Anyone Will Tell You. Little Rock, AR: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019. 71 pages. $15.95. Day, Lucille Lang and Ruth Nolan, editors. Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California. Oakland, CA: Scarlet Tanager Books, 2018. 462 pages. $25.00. de Sola, Susan. Frozen Charlotte. San Jose, CA: Able Muse Press, 2019. 103 pages. $19.95. Duckler, Merridawn. Interstate. Chicago, IL: dancing girl press & studio, 2018. 21 pages $7.00. Fancher, Alexis Rhone. The Dead Kid Poems. Bellingham, WA: KYSO Flash Press, 2019. 50 pages. $15.00.


Farawell, Martin Jude. Odd Boy. Little Rock, AR: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019. 105 pages. $18.00. Fancher, Alexis Rhone. Junkie Wife. Whittier, CA: Moon Tide Press, 2018. 36 pages. $12.00. Frame, Anthony. Where Wind Meets Wing. Little Rock, AR: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018. 45 pages. $10.00. Gouirand, Rae. Glass is Glass Water is Water. Tuscan, AZ: Spork Press, 2018. 87 pages. $18.00. Gouriand, Rae. Must Apple. Butte, MT: Educe Press, 2018. 32 pages. $12.00. Gouriand, Rae. The History of Art. Madison, WI: TAR Chapbook Series, 2019. 51 pages. $15.00. Guess, Avery M. The Truth Is. Black Lawrence Press, 2019. 70 pages. $16.95. Habra, Hedy. The Taste of the Earth. Winston-Salem, NC: Press 53, 2019. 89 pages. $17.95. Henry, Dewitt. Sweet Marjoram: Notes & Essays. Asheville, NC: MadHat Press, 2018. 139 pages. $21.95. Hirschler, Pamela. What Lies Beneath. Georgetown, KY: Finishing Line Press, 2019. 22 pages. $14.99. Karetnick, Jen. The Crossing Over. Washburn, WI: Split Rock Review, 2019. 25 pages. $10.00. Kress, Leaonard. Living in the Candy Store. Farmington, ME: Encircle Publications, 2018. 81 pages. $15.95. Laird, Nick. Feel Free. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. 77 pages. $15.95. Lambert, Sandra Gail. A Certain Loneliness: A Memoir. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. $19.95. Languell, Krystal. Quite Apart. Akron, OH: The University of Akron Press, 2019. 90 pages. $15.95.


Larsen, Jeanne. What Penelope Chooses. San Diego, CA: Cider Press Review, 2019. 85 pages. $17.95. Maddox, Marjorie. Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation. Eugene, RO: WIPF & STOCK, 2018. 110 pages. $14.00. McIlvoy. Kevin. At the Gate of All Wonder. North Adams, MA: Tupelo Press, 2018. 234 pages. $17.95. McLeod, Owen. Dream Kitchen. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2019. 96 pages. $12.95. Merchant, Megan. Grief Flowers. Glenview, IL: Glass Lyre Press, 2018. 65 pages. $16.00. Montag, Tom and Graham, David, editors. Local News: Poetry About Small Towns. Fairwater, WI: MWPH Books, 2019. 281 pages. $18.00. Moore, Berwyn. Sweet Herbaceous Miracle. Kansas City, MO: BkMk Press, 2018. 85 pages. $13.95. Morrison, Rae. I Hear the Human Noise. Winston-Salem, NC: Press 53, 2019. 160 pages. $17.95. Murphy, Patricia Colleen. Bully Love. Winston-Salem, NC: Press 53, 2019. 69 pages. $14.95. Murrey, Matthew. Bulletproof. Durham, NC: Jacar Press, 2019. 69 pages. $16.00. Najarian, James. The Goat Songs. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 2018. 72 pages. $12.95. Norton, Camille. A Folio for the Dark. San Francisco, CA: Sixteen Rivers Press, 2019. 94 pages. $16.00. Parsons, Linda. Candescent. Oak Ridge, TN: Iris Press, 2019. 91 pages. $16.00. Pearson, Joanna. Every Human Love: Stories. Cincinnati, OH: Acre Books, 2019. 209 pages. $17.00. Phillips, Carl. Star Map with Action Figures. Little Rock, AR: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019. 29 pages. $12.00.


Pinsky, Robert, editor. The Mind Has Cliffs of Fall. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019. 244 pages. $26.95. Quesada, Ruben. Revelations. Little rock, AR: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018. 33 pages. $10.00. Radzieski, Laurel. Red Mother. New York, NY: NYQ Books, 2018. 77 pages. $15.95. Rawlings, Wendy. Time for Bed: Stories. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2019. 157 pages. $24.95. Reys, JosĂŠ Edmundo Ocampo. Present Values. Durham, NC: Backbone Press, 2018. 24 pages. $9.00. Roeser, Dana. All Transparent Things Need Thundershirts. Kingston, WA: Two Sylvias Press, 2019. 105 pages. $17.00. Roma-Deeley, Lois. The Short List of Certainties. Steubenville, OH: Franciscan University Press, 2017. 87 pages. $14.95. Satterfield, Jane. Apocalypse Mix. Pittsburgh, PA: Autumn House Press, 2017. 95 pages. $17.95. Shmailo, Larissa. Sly Bang. New York, NY: Spuyten Duyvil, 2019. 194 pages. $18.00. Silverman, M.E. The Floating Door. Glenview, IL: Glass Lyre Press, 2018. 83 pages. $16.00. Stein, Dona Baier. Scenes From the Heartland. Florham Park, NJ: Serving House Books, 2019. 152 pages. $15.00. Tabois, Eileen R. Murder Death Resurrection. Loveland, OH: Dos Madres Press INC., 2018. 159 pages. $19.00. Tabois, Eileen R. Witness in the Convex Mirror. Berkeley, CA: Tinfish Press, 2019. 147 pages. $18.00. Tabois, Eileen R. The Great American Novel. San Mateo & Morgan Hill, CA: Paloma Press, 2019. 121 pages. $18.00. Thompson, Gin Love. Sunrises at Midnight. New York, NY: Onyx Ink Press, 2019. 109 pages. $12.99.


Tierney, Karl. Have You Seen This Man?. Little Rock, AR: Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019. 120 pages. $18.00. Tomash, Barbara. PRE-. Berkeley, CA: Black Radish Books, 2018. 74 pages. $17.00. White, Artress Bethany. My Afmerica: Poems. Ponte Vedra Beach, FL: Trio House Press, 2018. 63 pages. $16.00. White, Rhonda Browning. The Lightness of Water & Other Stories. Winston Salem, NC: Press 53, 2019. 158 pages. $14.95. Wright, Amy. Think I’ll Go Eat a Worm. Oak Ridge, TN: Iris Press, 2019. 52 pages. $12.00.

Profile for Crab Orchard Review

Crab Orchard Review Book Reviews August 2019  

Book review supplement August 2019.

Crab Orchard Review Book Reviews August 2019  

Book review supplement August 2019.