NewPages Book Reviews

August 3, 2009

Panama Fever :: Andean Express :: Where I Stay :: Once the Shore :: Future Missionaries of America :: Border Crossing :: Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction :: Beyond the Station lies the Sea :: Bestiary

Panama Fever coverPanama Fever

Digging Down Gold Mountain

Novel by W.B. Garvey

Jonkro Books, August 2009

ISBN-10: 0982229402

ISBN-13: 978-0-9822294-1-5

Hardcover: 320pp; $26.95

Review by Christina Hall

This microscopic look at France’s attempt to join two different parts of the world through outside labor is done in an honest and unbiased way through the two very different characters of Thomas and Byron. W.B. Garvey, the author of this climatic and colorful novel, writes with a straightforward and no-games-played style that evokes as broad a spectrum of emotion as the music Garvey is famous for playing on his violin. In his novel, Panama Fever, Garvey details the beginning stages of what we now know as the Panama Canal, enriching the pages with truthful character and landscape settings.

The at-turns lush and dry vividness of Central and South America’s wilderness and civilized areas is so skillfully woven into the text that the reader is left with a time warp feeling of accuracy without being bogged down by lengthy and wordy passages of prose. With a sentence, Garvey has the ability to set an intense emotional mood while simultaneously laying a four dimensional portrait of the landscape. The first line of the novel infuses the atmosphere with the same hopeful promise that filled many people at the start of the Panama Canal project: “The Heavens were white and blooming miles above the marsh-strands stretching like fingers inside the lips of Limon Bay.” The lusty desire for success, adventure and a place in history that drove thousands to Panama is rampant within the first few paragraphs of the novel, seduction unveiled.

Floating above the bay, as if by magic, was a city with roofs of spun gold, a tremor of vindication raced down each tense Jamaican spine… With sucked-in breaths the men felt their scalps begin to prickle as beyond the shoreline’s gnarling mangroves loomed a great denseness, vast and impenetrable.

It isn’t long, however, before the characters realize the near impossibility of the massive undertaking and begin to face the personal, natural and man-based obstacles that drive this book right until the last page.

The novel opens with Thomas and Byron as new “friends,” to use the word lightly. Although the men are the same age and both are Jamaicans by birth, “country boy” Byron looks up to Thomas, who was raised with privilege.

Thomas was amused and secretly flattered by the guileless way Byron had attached himself to his side. It gave him added satisfaction to know that even though Byron was eight days his senior and suffered more of life’s hard knocks the little recruit still looked up to him. That Byron wanted so desperately to be his friend when he had every reason to resent him only bolstered his newly-conceived ambition to be the small man’s champion.

Both only seventeen years old at the start, Thomas is as naïve as Byron is innocent. After only a few days together, Thomas saves Byron after an accident, and they are separated. This is the only moment in which Thomas truly acts on behalf of Byron without selfish motivation. Despite the fact that Byron tries unceasingly to contact his friend through correspondence and dangerous voyages while Thomas doesn’t recognize his efforts and is instead absorbed by his own exploits, Garvey manages to portray neither character as “good” or “bad.” While sometimes the reader may get impatient with Thomas’s selfishness and Byron’s lack of self confidence, we are still constantly sympathizing with and rooting for both characters. Even the seemingly cold-hearted, ambitious French recruiter, Henry Duvay leaves room for the reader’s occasional sympathy.

“You don’t understand,” Duvay said sadly, putting down the kaleidoscopic little globe to face his former protégé. “Whether this was a crazy dream or not does not mean we could have abandoned things sooner. Even had we never tried, somewhere men would have died, there would still be a failure. We need this canal. Without it there will never be light across the whole sorry world and the poor that you pretend to care for so deeply will perish in darkness. What we have started is not the end.”

Throughout the novel, Garvey writes about opposition in a matter of fact, almost subtle way without taking sides. Dark versus light skin. Rich versus poor. Father against son. Religious Order versus the common man. French against British against Jamaicans. He doesn’t merely gloss the issues, but he doesn’t overwhelm the novel with dramatic and clichéd anecdotes either. Like he does so well with Thomas and Byron, Garvey paints all groups and individuals empathetically.

Although the end of the novel does not coincide with the completion of the Panama Canal, the knowledge of its eventual success is tempered by the reader’s awareness of the lives that were changed and lost during the long years that led to its current existence. But Garvey’s novel is not just accurate and moving historical fiction. Panama Fever is a humanitarian piece of art, with as many lyrical crests and valleys as a string ensemble, and as equally vivid and dreary as a South American panoramic view of the rainforest.


Andean Express coverAndean Express

Novel by Juan de Recacoechea

Translated from the Spanish by Adrian Althoff

Akashic Books, April 2009

ISBN-10: 1933354720

ISBN-13: 978-1933354729

Paperback: 172pp; $15.95

Review by Laura Di Giovine

Andean Express by Bolivian journalist Juan de Recacoechea follows a slew of intriguing characters on an overnight train ride from Bolivia to Chile.

It’s 1952 and Ricardo Beintigoitia has just graduated from high school. He’s catching the train from La Paz, Bolivia, to Arica, Chile, where he spends the end of every school year with his family, and for the first time, he’s traveling alone. On his journey, Ricardo falls in love with the young (and newly married) Gulietta Carletti. Forced into an arranged marriage by her mother, Gulietta is on her honeymoon with a man she loathes, Nazario Alderete, an accountant-turned-mine owner who stole the mine from Gulietta’s own father. It turns out that nearly everyone on the train has a personal vendetta against Alderete, and reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, every character has his or her own motive for wanting to get rid of him.

Andean Express succeeds in creating a whodunit element of mystery alongside a cast of quirky characters, but the dialogue is occasionally stilted, as in the following heated exchange between Alderete and Ricardo:

“You won’t see [Gulietta] for many years, maybe never again. An adventure on a train with a married woman – is that what’s missing from your repertoire?”
“You’ve got quite an imagination, even though you’re only an accountant.”
“If you keep bothering her, then I’ll have to use my fists.”
“Why don’t we get off at the next station? That way we can see what you can do with those fists.”
“Careful, pretty boy.”

These sentences feel somewhat forced and unnatural. However, de Recacoechea makes up for the dialogue in his descriptions of the passing landscape. Observe the following vividly rendered paragraphs: “As the sun receded further, it gave way to shadows announcing the hostile Altiplano night, accompanied by an anguished silence,” and

Through the window, the landscape reinvented itself from moment to moment; it was like watching an endless movie, one without pauses or surprises. The Altiplano was a horizontal vertigo, as Drieu de la Rochelle once wrote about the Argentine pampas. Human life had vanished, giving way to a desolate moonscape.

These descriptions of a changing, foreign and occasionally hostile environment anchor the book and serve as an effective backdrop to the diverse and often strange characters that Ricardo encounters on his journey, including a Franciscan priest, an ex-mine worker, a contortionist, a Russian loan shark, a poker player, the owner of a popular cabaret and a former Irish boxer, among others. Everyone has a specific agenda and most involve Alderete.

Amidst all the chaos, Ricardo pursues a relationship with Gulietta, even though “it wasn’t like the Paris-Istanbul or the Trans-Siberian line, where the trip lasts nearly a week and relationships have time to begin, develop, and find reason for hope upon arriving at their destination.” And yet, Gulietta intrigues him. Why did she marry the much older, unattractive and universally despised Alderete? Why is her mother accompanying her on their honeymoon? Can Ricardo and Gulietta’s romance last beyond the Andean plateau? The burgeoning affair between Ricardo and Gulietta simmers seductively throughout the trip, and the sinister motives of the train’s passengers will keep the reader guessing until the thrilling finale.

Despite the uneven dialogue, de Recacoechea masterfully executes a tale of first-class suspense and constructs a sophisticated character-study of Bolivians from all backgrounds and professions.


Where I Stay coverWhere I Stay

Fiction by Andrew Zornoza

Tarpaulin Sky Press, June 2009

ISBN-10: 0-9779019-1-2

ISBN-13: 978-0-9779019-1-3

Paperback: 108pp; $14.00

Review by Cynthia Reeser

Andrew Zornoza’s expansive, fragmentary Where I Stay is a piecemeal construction of text and image. An epigraph, penned in 1938 by Walker Evans, simultaneously urges the reader and the eye behind the camera to focus on “[t]hese anonymous people who come and go in the cities and who move on the land,” on “what is in their faces and in the windows and the streets beside and around them.” Fittingly, it is just those elements, particular to an individual’s specific moment, time and place, that capture the anonymous sense of the national spirit.

Much of the text evokes the anatomy of a moment, while each accompanying photograph tells its own story. The first, titled “Aug. 2, Cheyenne, Wyoming,” roots the reader firmly in the visual:

Perpendicular to the road and sagging between the outstretched arms of crossed wood crutches are several irrigation pipes leaking water. As far as the eye can see are gold, spent fields of grain, cut only by the pencil-thin shadows of the irrigators [. . . ] A car hurtles down the road, bringing bleached white Utah plates and a trio of kids gawking through the back window, their mouths tiny O’s pressed against the glass.

As this passage illustrates, people steer in and out of the frame throughout the book, leaving just as quickly as they arrived. The narrator is unnamed, but travels from place to place searching for something, for someone (often, his “lost” sister), and presumably for meaning. The photograph that accompanies “Aug. 2, Cheyenne, Wyoming” depicts a scene of vast Wyoming sky that seems oppressed by the rolling hills and variegated scrub beneath it. It is captioned, “I want you to know how it was with me.” In scenes like these, it is almost as though the narrator wants to convey that the land, that travel, has its own message and meaning; sometimes it is almost as if the land itself reveals a story.

Zornoza finds meaning not only in the land and in travel, but conveys what is derived via both ordinary moments and dysfunctional situations: A man is fired from a road crew; a bleary narrator wakes from a heroin dream next to a bleeding body and nods off again; male prostitutes tread carefully around a new recruit. What it all adds up to is a picture of a life, told in evocative fragments. The stories and, especially, the captions encourage poignant questions of self, placement and identity. The author begins many scenes in the middle of the action, bringing the reader into a moment that seems to always exist, anywhere and outside of time.

Along with questions of identity, which Zornoza brings to light in small moments posing as captions (“I have systematically and selectively removed myself from my past. The past does not fit in my present tense. I do not fit in myself.”), borders, liminal spaces, liminality, and uncertainty surface in the bleak, vast and mostly barren landscapes. One caption accompanies a photograph
(portrait?) of a road that skirts rolling hills dotted with farmhouses and reads, "There are cracks in the country – in its families and highways, houses and rivers, factories, cellar windows, truck stops, in the sounds of chattering televisions, in the plexiglass booths of pay phones by bus stations, in the crushed glass of parking lots."

Zornoza’s use of fragments of image and narration is expert. The movement of people and lives; chance meetings between strangers destined never to cross paths again; moments that can never be recreated; the uncertainty of people, place, relationships – all collide across culture and class, gender and race to form an anthem of displacement. The author deftly – and in spite of himself, seamlessly – weaves common threads that, by the end of the book, form a recognizable whole. Where I Stay is a story of a search for a home, for permanence, and ultimately for meaning. This becomes clear only gradually. Yet another caption reads, "I had removed everyone I knew or the people had removed themselves. I replaced them all with a vast plateau, then mountains, dry desert, broken pieces of landscape that didn’t quite fit together. I found people in the cracks."

The landscape Zornoza creates is one in which fragments and emptiness hold a meaning that simply requires a watchful observer. “Nov. 6, US Atomic Energy Commission Reservation, Arco, Idaho” is starkly poignant. The narrator hitches a ride with a Marine, who notes, “What’s out there, looks like nothing. Looks like a wasteland, right? I look out the window. But there is no nothing, he says.” Zornoza’s narrator is one that is so uncertain and searching that he is sometimes swallowed up in his surroundings and in circumstance. But the author provides just enough for the attentive reader to locate him in bits and pieces, and the narrator’s story becomes the reader’s journey.


Once the Shore coverOnce the Shore

Stories by Paul Yoon

Sarabande Books, April 2009

ISBN-10: 1932511709

ISBN-13: 978-1-932511-70-3

Paperback: 270pp; $15.95

Review by Cyan James

The wind. The East China Sea. Time gnawing on the shore. In the eight assured short stories in his first collection, Yoon takes us through fifty years on the fictional Korean island of Solla, where his characters map out lives eroded by warfare and polished by a series of tender passing moments.

Literally and metaphorically, Yoon’s characters are true islanders, separated from one another both in body and spirit by deep seas. They seem intent on learning how to swim, and if not that, at least how to drown well. Sinaru, a young boy in the story “So That They Do Not Hear Us,” pleads for “a room filled with water.” He is fascinated with the neighbor woman, an old diver he thinks is otherworldly enough to save him from a life of being bullied. The diver can’t wrest him from life’s wreckage, but she can give him a bathtub for his wounds. She muses about the sea: “if you were in it without purpose, there was the sense of going nowhere and being nothing, the sense of insignificance. And that each descent and surfacing was a struggle against this.”

Yoon’s other characters doggedly struggle against this insignificance. Even those whose lives have already been blighted soldier on with resolution and elegant dignity. A quietly warring couple motor out to fish their blown-up son from the sea. A crippled girl tries to protect an American deserter. Another girl struggles to keep the farm where her mother left her. A responsible daughter tries to explain her love for the vagrant thieving boy she has grown up with, who has returned to the island: “He traveled great distances. He started fires . . . And I thought it beautiful. And loved him.”

It’s this measured doggedness that embeds these stories in the mind, as well as Yoon’s ability to fit the physicality and soul of an entire life into a single paragraph. For example, a woman argues with her husband, then mourns her son:

Afterward, she lay in the corner of the bedroom and pressed the side of her face against the wall and said, “Karo, I am listening to your heart. I am listening to the sea. And I am scared.” Bey was across the room, looking up at the thatched roof that seemed to spread until he saw a vast network of hands extending. Karo’s hands were thick and scarred and calloused from the nets, from the war, and they were always cold and always beautiful.

These stories are about big emotions – big betrayals, lasting attachments, deepening disappointments. They’re about the way we fail each other, but also about the little graces we give each other to keep one another going. They’re, simply, about us. Yoon knows us.

And by now you’ve gotten a spoonful of his beautifully calibrated prose. Even when the stories seem momentarily becalmed, his descriptions keep the writing wonderfully rich. The sentences themselves remain generally simple and spare, but resonate fully. A man’s beard smells like “citrus and the river.” Another one’s fingernails taste like flour.

These details, like little hooks, grab us and pull us completely into a character’s interior life. They pull us to the end of the book, and back to the beginning again. Dip your toes in. Wade out. Dive in.


Future Missionaries of America coverFuture Missionaries of America

Fiction by Matthew Vollmer

MacAdam/Cage, February 2009

ISBN-10: 1596923121

ISBN-13: 978-1596923126

Hardcover: 250pp; $24.00

Review by Brian Alan Carr

Matthew Vollmer’s impressive debut collection grates its characters against their fate, pitting their desires and their beliefs against each other as these brightly rendered tales unfold. These are well constructed, richly polished stories that rely heavily on nuanced events to deliver powerful and precise emotion. Characters struggle with sexuality, social acceptance, and death – often times through the filter of non-mainstream Christian faith. The result is an odd and heightened sense of guilt and grief.

[D]on’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t drink caffeinated beverages, don’t swear, don’t gamble, don’t touch yourself, don’t consult mediums or talk to ghosts (because the dead are dead and ghosts are demons in disguise), don’t eat flesh foods (they arouse animal passions), don’t visit the cinema (your angel won’t follow you inside), love not the world and its diversions, Christ, and watch out for Satan, who lies always in wait and knows your every weakness.

In this way, religion in Vollmer’s Future Missionaries of America functions much as Bella Fleck’s banjo. It is a traditional instrument being used in a re-imagined capacity. Whereas many fiction writers have used religion as metaphor for structure and security, Vollmer lets religion stand as an obstacle for human interaction. His characters are affiliated with odd religious sects, and their social conflicts are compacted by these affiliations. This is not Jake Barnes escaping into a cathedral to escape drunken reverie in Hemingway’s Spain. Religion here is used to further alienate, to fuel tensions, not to establish solace.

Surprisingly, however, the stories here are not heavy reads. On the contrary, Vollmer’s diction and rhythms lend bright and airy atmospheres to his character’s lives. In “Man-O’-War,” a dentist laments the death of his bride. He floats in and out of daily routines, re-imagining his wife’s drowning after being stung by a man-o’-war on their honeymoon. But the tone is often more darkly comical than overtly dramatic. As shown here as the narrator speaks with his mother on the phone:

I don’t have the balls to tell them, Don’t come down, won’t admit I can’t stand the sight of them, so I say, Now’s not such a good time. Then, to distract Mom from further lines of questioning, all of which will no doubt lead to tears, I ask if she’s gotten the pictures, knowing she hasn’t because the pictures, or what I’m pretty sure are the pictures, are sitting on the table in the kitchen, inside a box I’m poking with a dirty fork in order to open, if possible, a little peephole. No, she says, hasn’t gotten anything, wonders if she should call the photographer, because, Ted, you paid good money for those. Ah, I say, I paid good money for a lot of things. My honeymoon, for example. Ted, she says. For instance, I say, I also recently paid good money for a man-o’-war. Silence. You know, I continue, a Portuguese man-o’-war, the invertebrate, I bought one.

But if there is a complaint to launch against Vollmer’s debut, it is that this language, necessary to a certain extent to brighten the atmosphere, can become cumbersome in certain passages. In “The Digging” for instance, the main character Kyle has been shipped off to a Seventh-Day-Adventist boarding school. He is being punished for bad behavior. The punishment is digging grave-sized holes. Hedrick, the principal of the school, arrives with cheeseburgers for lunch.

Once Hedrick’s far enough away, Kyle unfolds the bag, flicks the pickles off the patties, wolfs down the lukewarm burgers. Despite the fact that he wants to think Hedrick’s a dick, he’s thankful for the meat. Each majestically cheesy bite obliterates his tastes buds, reminds him of post Little League Happy Meals when, after the Nantahala Hawks got squashed by whoever they were playing, Kyle and his father would drive to the nearest McDonald’s to gorge themselves on burgers, fries, apple pies.

But these “majestically cheesy bite[s]” are few and far between, and generally Vollmer handles the framework of the language with subtle precision. The effect is a large hearted collection of stories that work extremely well together thematically to create a wide bodied debut. When at his best, Vollmer’s work evokes a sort of sun-colored pain. The guilt, hurt and alienation his characters deal with is somehow fresh. Somehow clean. And because of this, Future Missionaries of America deserves attention.


Border Crossing coverBorder Crossing

YA Novel by Jessica Lee Anderson

Milkweed Press, October 2009

ISBN-10: 1571316892

ISBN-13: 978-1-57131-689-9

Hardcover: 160pp; $17

Review by Jessica Powers

Anderson’s sophomore novel explores one young man’s descent into schizophrenia as he responds to an erratic and arbitrary world filled with a dysfunctional alcoholic mother, a disappearing stepfather, and a best friend with problems as large as his own.

Set in a farming community in Texas where Mexican immigrants seek day labor, Manz struggles with his split identity – Anglo mom, Mexican dad – in a world that doesn’t seem to have room for both. His decline is fueled by the community’s visible racism, Border Patrol operations, and the violence his best friend suffers at the hands of his father.

Though the side characters need to be fleshed out, the novel is a page turner. Anderson manages to be both realistic and compassionate in her depiction of mental illness.


The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction coverThe Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

Tips from Editors, Teachers, and
Writers in the Field

Edited by Tara L. Masih

Rose Metal Press, May 2009

ISBN-10: 0978984862

ISBN-13: 978-0978984861

Paperback: 208pp; $15.95

Review by John Madera

[Here's my flash review of Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction:]

For the beginner, the book is a tremendous resource offering various glosses and overviews of the short short’s history and widely divergent definitions of this resurgent genre. Each of the twenty-five brief essays here, written by twenty-five peerless writers and editors, is followed by an exercise or prompt, and includes a demonstrative story.

I would suggest reading this book in small doses, as its repetitive aspects, that is, over-familiar ideas about story form, about craft, about how to generate ideas, and also about what really makes a flash, well, flash, will be grating even to the rank raconteur. That said, seasoned writers can happily cherry-pick through the essays and leave with at least a basketful of provocative, even inspiring, ideas. For instance, Shouhua Qi’s “Old Wine in New Bottles? Flash Fiction from Contemporary China” provides a necessary fleshing out of some historical aspects only briefly surveyed in the Field Guide’s introduction. Pamelyn Casto’s “The Myth-ing Link (Or, Linking Up to Myth),” is a necessary departure from conventional views of the contemporary short short’s narrative arc. But how could I not fall for an essay that references Victor Shklovsky’s idea of ostranenie, or “defamiliarization?”

Michael Martone’s essay may be the one that’s worth the price of admission alone. Beginning as a meditation on titling stories, it ends up a multi-chambered collapsible box of interplaying ideas and crosstalk. Like the stories Martone describes, his essay is “a maze one works one’s way through.” The Oulipian-like exercises are wonderfully insane, and his story, “A Perimenopausal Jacqueline Kennedy, Two Years After the Assassination, Aboard the M/Y Christina, Off Eubeoa, Bound for the Island of Alonnisos, Devastated by a Recent Earthquake, Drinks Her Fourth Bloody Mary with Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Jr.,” is mind-boggling.

Essays by Randall Brown, Tom Hazuka, Jennifer Pieroni, and Robert Shapard shed useful light on just what these editors are looking to publish in their respective stalwart journals and anthologies. And cheers to Rusty Barnes for using Lydia Copeland’s wonderfully lyrical, richly layered, and emotionally and psychologically probing story “In the Air a Shining Heart” as a story example. Kim Chinquee’s essay laudably contributes to the debate regarding what distinguishes the prose poem from the short short, and her use of a Diane Williams story, as is Deb Olin Unferth’s spot on explication of a Williams story, is to be commended.

Sherrie Flick offers necessary encouragement to those writers who believe that a story need not always conform to tired ideas of plot – that stories might also reside in a “timeless limbo.” Bruce Holland Rogers’s at times cantankerous essay adds another dimension to this project as do his almost mathematical approaches to writing constraints. And Julio Ortega offers one of the more interesting definitions of flash fiction: it “wanders . . . between waking up and waking down. The fictional, sudden vision occurs when your own soul finally reaches you and brings you a fistful of words.” While this field guide certainly flashes, it also illuminates.


Beyond the Station lies the Sea coverBeyond the Station Lies the Sea

YA Novel by Jutta Richter

Milkweed Press, September 2009

ISBN-10: 1571316906

ISBN-13: 978-1-57131-690-5

Hardcover: 96pp; $14.00

Review by Jessica Powers

What would you give up to pursue a dream? In this rich and wonderful novel for people of all ages, a 9-year-old boy named Niner is willing to sell his guardian angel in exchange for money so that he and his friend, a homeless man called Cosmos, can travel to the sea and open an “ice cold drinks” stand. But once Niner sells his guardian angel, a terrible thing happens: he is left without protection, vulnerable to any whim of fate, germ, or accident. The story’s plot hinges on this one question: will he be able to get his guardian angel back before he dies?

This is Richter’s third children’s novel published in the U.S., all three translations from the original German. Clearly, Richter is one of the most imaginative children’s writers alive . . . and Beyond the Station Lies the Sea is simply the latest evidence of her enormous talent.


Bestiary coverBestiary

Poetry by Elise Paschen

Red Hen Press, April 2009

ISBN-10: 1597091316

ISBN-13: 978-1-59709-131-2

Paperback: 80pp; $16.95

Review by Cyan James

Every poem in Paschen's Bestiary has been carefully groomed; each poem still stays a little feral, mostly concerning what strange things we do in our own familiar homes: A woman bears the chrysalis of her son in her wandering body, a mother nurses amid a welter of storybook patterns, the vagaries of gods and storms and men thunder in the background...

Two different sorts of domesticity are at play within Bestiary: the repainting of ancient stories (or the wildness we've always known lives within the home), and then the echo of those myths crackling in today's hearth-side. The words themselves uphold the themes of light and dark, ocean and earth, suspension and splitness, neither hereness nor thereness: "Night falls. / Suspended between timber / and foam, buoyed, then dropped, we pitch, catch hold. The sea / cradles the sighing hull."

Thematically, Paschen splits the collection into thirds. The first third mainly concerns vivacity and fecundity, humans twining with nature, and the fertile relationship that develops between Paschen and her husband (and, eventually, their two children). Spring would be an appropriate theme, when riotous nature breaks bonds and taboos while reproducing itself:

How much space will you need
to grow? A galaxy
of cells, then the heartbeat.
You nose-dive down. A dove
hoo, hoo, hooing. Above
lodestar, a slip of moon.

Paschen's nature descriptions themselves, reminiscent of Louise Erdrich, showcase this collection's true strength in lines such as: "Night-fall, we stretch and tumble under rafters, / beneath the moon. Bats' breath against our lips." But the poems disappoint when they content themselves with obvious, facile lines such as "Snuggling between a wedding photograph, / we now play Hearts instead of Solitaire." Sentimentality and portents are allowed a little too much free rein.

In the second part, deep autumn falls over the poems. You can nearly hear leaves breaking underfoot. The lines slacken their celebrations and turn instead toward the slightly sinister undertow of the season. Things are going dormant, preparing for something deep to happen: "The sky turns brackish green. I'm caught / outside and hear a rumble growing louder, / stomping the heart."

The final section is arguably Paschen's strongest – she skirts what could easily be cloying, and instead gives readers a supple, nuanced portrayal of how we carry on when we no longer know the proper rules and rituals. Paschen addresses that dusky in-between-ness of dying as she witnesses both her parents' passings. In "Ash," Paschen equates her father's crematory remains to moths, wood shavings from a fallen tree – all ephemeral – both linked and burned by those who continue to live. Her mother, a ballet dancer, first dances death and then herself enacts it.

Death seems to grapple for survival, as life's cycles slowly continue. Spring slowly dawns – far away, still cold, but coming. The gardener, Jesus, makes appearances, as Paschen intones "Where you seek permanence is death. / Where you seek change, there you find life."

There is life indeed in this half-tame, half-rampant bestiary.