Category Archives: review

The Graybar Hotel by Curtis Dawkins

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Before reading Curtis Dawkins’ short story collection The Graybar Hotel, you should decide how you’re going to come to terms with Dawkins’ crime of murder that put him in prison for life without parole. Decide if you are comfortable with the book’s profits going to an “education fund” for Dawkins’ children.

In the early morning of Oct. 31, 2004, Dawkins shot Thomas Bowman to death during a drug-fueled crime spree in a neighborhood of Kalamazoo, Michigan. In his book, the only explicit reference to the murder is “The night I killed a man was a horrible ordeal, especially for his family, my family” in the book’s acknowledgments. This detached and somewhat unapologetic sentiment is followed by “you learn within twenty-four hours of hearing a prison door slam shut, either you will die regretting the past or you’ll learn to live in the present.” He is correct. Pages of melodramatic regret would not change anything. Continue reading

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Dreamlives of Debris by Lance Olsen

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Dreamlives of Debris is six inches squared, each page consisting of small poems or “songs,” blocks of text buffered by white space. Within those blocks is a chorus whose singers include Daedalus, Borges, Mandelbrot (the mathematician who developed fractals), and Stuxnet (an American-Israeli cyberweapon that buried itself in the software codes of an Iranian nuclear centrifuges). Olsen is working with a theme here, repeating himself with variation in order to progress through his own maze.

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A Field Guide to the North American Family by Garth Risk Hallberg

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Garth Risk Hallberg’s A Field Guide to the North American Family is a novella about two neighboring Long Island families, the Hungates and the Harrisons, and the ways their paths intersect and diverge. But it’s also a study in the juxtaposition of photographs and words, a riff on nature guides and cultural anthropology, and, fundamentally, a book that brings the reader’s imagination to the front. We are charged with the responsibility of creating meaning from this work. How we do that is up to us. Continue reading

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Eat Only When You’re Hungry by Lindsay Hunter

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Overeating is often framed as an issue of willpower, while drug addiction is commonly regarded as a disease. It’s not that the obese have a sickness, the thinking goes, so much as they lack self-control. But a 2011 New York Times blog post titled “Can You Be Addicted to Foods?” challenges this logic, suggesting that overeating may be genetically linked to other kinds of addictions. The post cites a study that finds that “adults with a family history of alcoholism [are] 30 to 40 percent more likely to be obese than those with no alcoholism in the family.” Addiction to food may manifest differently than substance abuse, but the two frequently run together in the blood. Continue reading

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Star Witness by Joe Meno

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Joe Meno’s Star Witness is an enchanting mystery that meanders through the lives of a motley cast of eccentrics trapped in their rural lives.

Meno, author of novels like Office Girl and Marvel and A Wonder, launched the episodic serial novella through Electric Literature. Serialized fiction published by periodicals is not a new format, but this modern iteration feels innovative and unexpected, and Electric Literature should be lauded for experimenting. Meno does the genre proud with an alluring tale about a missing girl and the young woman who is determined to find her. Star Witness exploits the limitations of the serial form by using the episodic structure and our natural curiosity to draw us into Meno’s world. Continue reading

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Fresh Complaint by Jeffrey Eugenides

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Fresh Complaint, Jeffrey Eugenides’s first short-fiction collection, reads like a career retrospective. Comprised of stories that ran in The New Yorker and elsewhere over the last 29 years (only two stories appear to have been written for the collection), the book showcases the obsessions and hallmarks that have come to define Eugenides as a writer. We follow odd-ducks, middle-aged failures, and bourgeois literary types as they trek off to India, quest for a sense of fulfillment, sacrifice their ambition, and generally struggle to be happy.

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