Review of “Trigger Warning” by Neil Gaiman

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With Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning: Short Stories and Disturbances, the author has given us an assorted collection of short stories with a dabble of poetry. In this collection of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy, you can learn about a mysterious American traveler who visits a quaint English town with dark secrets, solve a peculiar mystery with Sherlock Holmes, meet an odd man who claims to have uninvented the jetpack, and even defeat aliens with the eleventh Doctor.

Neil Gaiman is a New York Times #1 bestselling author who has written wide range of books for children and for adults. This collection of short stories is the third published by Gaiman, following Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illustrations (1998) and Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders (2006). Considering how well these past collections were received and how well I believe this one did, Trigger Warning very likely won’t be the last of them.

Gaiman starts off the book with a lengthy preface giving details as to why he choose the title and the meaning and origin behind each story. The use of the phrase “trigger warning” is not quite of traditional usage. Normally this term is used to warn against potentially disturbing context of a writing or a video for people that have experience related trauma. As Gaiman explains, “trigger warning” in this case refers to “images or words or ideas that…[throw] us out of our safe, sane world.” That was one of his goals with putting together this collection, to bring us readers out of our comfort zones and into the deep and dark world of his wonderful, yet twisted imagination. The trigger warning isn’t meant for specified people, it’s meant for all of us because we all have a trigger. After explaining the title meaning, Gaiman goes on to describe in either brief or extended detail as to why each of these stories and poems exist. For example, “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” was written as a ninetieth birthday present for none other than Ray Bradbury, a writer who Gaiman admires. “The Thing about Cassandra” was inspired by fourteen-year-old Gaiman’s imaginary girlfriend who he gave life by simply writing her name on various notebooks, much like his character Stuart did. He wrote “Adventure Story” for a radio show This American Life, though the producers ended up not being huge fans of it, and because he’d been “thinking a lot about death” and how when people die they “take their stories with them.”

While I enjoyed getting to know further detail about each story than is normally given, I’m not sure the preface was the best placement of them. I felt obligated to go through and read about each story before starting them which took away, only slightly, from the magic of blindly discovering excellent short stories within a collection. I found myself turning back to the beginning to read some of the explanations again once finishing the stories.

Gaiman plays with format in many of his stories, the most noticeable being “Orange.” Under the title of the story there is a note which states “(Third Subject’s Responses to Investigator’s Written Questionnaire.) EYES ONLY.” The story is written as a numbered list of answers without the questions that prompted them and yet, it is still easy for the readers to completely grasp the story because where there are vague answers such as “several times a day” there are more descriptive answers such as the description of where the narrator found “an empty jam jar” under her sister Nerys’s window. This story with the odd format ended up being one of my personal favorites in the collection due to the amazing and interesting way it was told through only a long list. The best part was that the narrator almost seemed bored as she was answering the questions about her sister turning into an entity known as “Her Immanence.” Another story that was interesting format was “A Calendar of Tales” which combined 12 short stories into one, each story representing a month of the year. Every small story within this larger one was written expertly, however each of them ended on a cliffhanger that left me gripping to the last sentence hoping the next story would expand upon the previous one. They never did.

Gaiman did a wonderful job of creating twenty-four (well, actually thirty-five considering “A Calendar of Tales”) different worlds with spectacular imagery which assists the readers in truly experiencing the stories. In “Down to a Sunless Sea,” Gaiman introduces a woman who “does not appear to care about the rain” by writing the story in second person telling us that we “want to pull [a bone necklace] from her neck, to toss it into the river for the mudlarks to find or to lose.” Some of the other worlds presented to the readers were familiar, at least in my case, as I got to visit London and India with the famous Sherlock Holmes in “A Case of Death and Honey,” a story which reimagined the reason he has been a character who has been revived many times since his original death by Arthur Conan Doyle in 1893. I also got to travel to the year 1984 with the eleventh Doctor and his companion Amy, and being a huge Doctor Who fan myself, I enjoyed getting to be with those characters again on a new adventure. I also got to visit worlds that were familiar, but not quite the ones I knew. In “The Sleeper and the Spindle,” we learn about a different version of sleeping beauty with another fairytale princess, now queen, being the fierce heroine of the story.

Being that Neil Gaiman is a spectacular writer, all of his stories and poems, at least in this collection, are written to represent that. While not all of these stories may immediately seem enchanting, they are well worth the read. The fun thing about short story collections is that there is no necessity to read each story in the order that they are printed. You can read the stories front to back, back to front, or in any order that pleases you. You can even go back and reread your favorites, as I did. If you’re looking for creative intelligence that fuels a random assortment of fun, creepy, and interesting stories, this is the book for you.


neil-gaiman-3-smAbout the Author: Neil Gaiman was born in Hampshire, UK, and now lives in the United States near Minneapolis. As a child he discovered his love of books, reading, and stories, devouring the works of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, James Branch Cabell, Edgar Allan Poe, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Gene Wolfe, and G.K. Chesterton. A self-described “feral child who was raised in libraries,” Gaiman credits librarians with fostering a life-long love of reading: “I wouldn’t be who I am without libraries. I was the sort of kid who devoured books, and my happiest times as a boy were when I persuaded my parents to drop me off in the local library on their way to work, and I spent the day there. I discovered that librarians actually want to help you: they taught me about interlibrary loans.”


About the Author of this Post: Kate Haley is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing and Organizational Communication. When she is not spouting off random facts about anything and everything, she fills her time with reading copious amounts of books and writing novels that will hopefully become best-sellers (or at the best, sellers).

Review of “Everything I Never Told You” by Celeste Ng

everythinginevertoldyou-celestengEverything I Never Told You is a tale of a Chinese-American family in a time when diversity was constantly frowned upon. Set in the 1970’s, the Lee’s, a family of five, struggle to understand each other. They also struggled to fit into a world that didn’t understand them. The father, James, is of Chinese heritage, while his wife, Marilyn, is white. Their three children stand out as Chinese-Americans in an all white school. They kept one too many secrets from each other and in the end it caused their middle child Lydia her life. Ng uses this novel to explore the pressures with which parents weigh their children down, not even knowing they are doing so. Ng writes, “How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers. Because of Lydia’s mother and father, because of her mother’s and father’s mothers and fathers” (Ng 25). This novel beautifully captured the terrors secrets can keep and just what happens when the web of lies begins to unravel; slipping like water through your fingers so quickly you never even understood how you could possibly have held it all in.

Through a stunning display of multiple point of views, Ng smoothly navigates from one character to the next, letting each story play out until all the secrets the family tried so desperately to keep are brought to light. By switching points of view the reader can hear the distinctive voice of the mother, the father, Nath, Hannah, and Lydia herself as the reader learns what they never told each other, making the title of the book a clever one.

Normally a common fault with some novels is not holding the reader’s attention. Ng does not make this mistake. The novel captured my attention right from the start and kept me guessing all the way up until the final word had been read. The text itself has a dazzling introductory line when Ng writes, “Lydia is dead. But they do not know this yet” (Ng 1). The mystery of Lydia’s death had me guessing the entire time. How did this happen? Why did this happen?  One thing I really enjoyed of this novel was how each character was guilty, because at some point they all lied. One example of Nath’s lies is when he said, “All Nath would know, for sure, was this: he pushed Lydia into the water” (Ng 154). It really captured through the characters and family dynamic how many secrets we keep and how many lies we tell to ourselves.

This is a great read for those who have suffered similar pressures of the family dynamic, and who want a read that will keep you captured from beginning to end. It was thoroughly enjoyable and will hold its readers captive from the first to last sentence. If you are looking for a quick and enjoyable read that runs your emotions all over like a rollercoaster then crack open this book and find out just what really happened to Lydia.


celeste-ngAbout the Author: Celeste Ng Celeste Ng is a writer in Cambridge, Massachusetts (It’s pronounced “-ing.”) Her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, has won multiple awards and was a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and on the Best Book of the Year lists of over a dozen outletsHer second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, will be published in Fall 2017.

Review of “Dynamite” by Anders Carlson-Wee

dynamiteWithin the pages of “Dynamite,” the reader will find a collection of poems that explode with emotion as Anders Carlson-Wee’s speaker experiences love and loss off and on the streets of America.
The first poem in Carlson-Wee’s chapbook is titled, “Dynamite” and speaks of a childhood game he and his brother used to play, where everything they threw at each other was dynamite. They would hurl everything from pine cones to choke-chains at each other until they were bruised and bloody. He ends this poem by saying:

I say a hammer isn’t dynamite.

He reminds me everything is dynamite.

Carlson-Wee turns this last stanza into the thesis of his chapbook, showing his readers through a series of poems that every encounter in one’s life leaves a lasting impact. Carlson-Wee backs up his claim by writing about everything as common as a photograph, to something as catastrophic as a flood and showing readers how each instance affected his life.

These pages are filled with the skeletons of those long ago lost, but not forgotten. Carlson-Wee writes as though their ghosts are whispering in his ear; his words occupy a space somewhere between reality and those he has lost. Carlson-Wee writes about the nursing home he grew up visiting his grandmother at but now, years after her passing, as he hitchhikes down Country 19, he can’t help but feel drawn to the lot where the nursing home once stood:

The woman asks me where I’m going

And I say as far as you can take me,

But as we pass the old folks home, I tell her to pull over.

He organizes his poems to tell a story. Each poem is plucked from the days Carlson-Wee spent hitchhiking or bumming rides on freight cars and is filled with the people or places he met on his journey. By the time readers reach the final destination, they will know every screw, every rail, and every nail that built the track of Carlson-Wee’s journey and where it lead him to”

It’s not about suffering. It’s not about fear.

We must peer out the *owl’s eye.

—from “Riding the Owl’s Eye”

Carlson-Wee swings from word to word, doing the poetic monkey bars; every word and phrase has a purpose and is connected, such that each poem hits the reader like a stick of dynamite.

 

*”circular hole on the porch of a Canadian Grainer train car, in which a train hopper car can ride in concealment” (Carlson-Wee 27)


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About the Author: Anders Carlson-Wee is a 2015 NEA Fellow and 2015 Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. His work has appeared in Narrative, New England Review, The Missouri Review, The Southern Review, Blackbird, Best New Poets, and The Best American Nonrequired Reading series. Winner of Ninth Letter’s Poetry Award and New Delta Review’s Editors’ Choice Prize, he holds an MFA in poetry from Vanderbilt University.

“Find Me” by Laura van den Berg

laura_van_den_berg_2015Ever been at a point in your life, wondering where you belong? Ever feel like you have no place in this world, that you’re just drifting through life on autopilot? This is how nineteen-year-old Joy Jones has spent her life. Abandoned as in infant on the steps of a hospital, Joy had spent the her childhood and teens in group and foster homes, haunted by the constant feeling of unwantedness until she aged out of the system. She spends her days working a graveyard shift at a Stop & Shop, nursing an addiction to Robitussin, in hopes of keeping the memories of her troubled past at bay. She lives alone in a basement of an apartment building that has no windows, stating that her apartment is “like a tomb, the door a seal-would I ever get out?” As Joy questions the meaning of her existence, a sickness threatens to ravage the United States. With no official name, “the sickness” is a disease that causes individuals to suffer silver sores, memory loss and immediate death. One day, Joy is approached by a man in a hazmat suit, who invites her to join a program at the Hospital to find a cure for “the sickness”-as Joy discovers that she is immune to the disease. While she and seventy-three others are subjected to questionable treatments, she forms fragile bonds with some of the patients (like her roommate, Louis and the twins Christopher and Sam). As winter approaches, Joy breaks free and sets on a journey to find her birth mother, unknowingly unlocking the secrets to her past that she tried so desperately to hide, while also finding meaning in her life and what it means to love someone unconditionally.

I found “Find Me” to be a very compelling and unique read. Van den Berg is widely known for her short story works (“Isle of Youth” and “What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leave Us”), so for this to be her first attempt at writing a novel, I give it a three out of five stars.

First, the novel is split into two journeys: we begin with the Hospital where Joy is being held. She narrates her experience there, as well as recalls her life before the Hospital in (mostly) innate detail. The second half, Joy makes a cross-country trek to California to confront the mother she never knew, chronicling her trials and tribulations as well as discovering her self-worth. I liked how the author establishes the character (Joy) very well throughout the novel. Her voice can be heard clearly; it was like she was speaking directly to me because Joy was speaking, not only to herself but to someone who was willing to listen. For example: “I got on the wrong bus. I was not awake and not asleep and when I looked out the window, I was in Kendall Square. The bus stopped. I got out. The sky was a bruise. I was unsure of the time.” Joy’s attention to every detail pertains the theme that memory serves in the novel, particularly the first part when she is in the Hospital.

Unfortunately, this theme sort of dies down once she leaves the Hospital, causing the novel to lose some of its drive. The whole sickness is revolved around the recurring theme of memory, so it was disappointing when van den Berg strayed from it. I also noticed the novel tends to drag on a bit. Parts becomes stagnant when Joy is on the road (jumping from bus to bus, suddenly running into a childhood friend, getting trapped in a “haunted house”).

Some readers may find the narration a bit confusing and strange; Joy often goes off on tangents (habits of listing things off to prove that she’s not sick) and the narration often jumps back and forth between the past and the present, such when she is talking about “the sickness” and then switches to her childhood (the past): “Experts now say that the toll could be worse than the 1918 influenza, which left half a million Americans dead…. When I was a child, I lived for a time with a boy I grew to love.” Even though it might perplex a few readers at first, the author’s grammar and cues in the book helped establish the sudden switch.

All in all, I’d give this novel a three out of five for its unique take on a post-apocalyptic America with a female lead that struggles to find her worth in a world that is struggling to put itself back together.


About the Author: Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her M.F.A. at Emerson College. Her first novel, Find Me, published by FSG in 2015, was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, and BuzzFeed, among others, in addition to being longlisted for the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize.


About the Author of this Post: Tiara Hawkins

Review of “Manual for Cleaning Ladies” by Lucia Berlin

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In Lucia Berlin’s collection of short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, takes you everywhere – from Mexico to Colorado, Texas to Chile. This seems fitting, considering Berlin herself jumped from place to place throughout her life. Berlin is known for having based the stories off of her own life, almost to the point of considering them autobiographical and not fiction, and this book of short stories shows that this is true of her writing. The stories are almost always focused on single, divorced women or young girls struggling through the different situations life throws at us and you can’t help but notice that the characters have recurring thoughts, actions, and surroundings. Characters also reappear throughout different stories and the main characters all maintain a very similar persona, which reinforces the feeling that they are all about the author herself. With the rawness and detail that she uses in writing a variety of experiences, Berlin must have lived a thousand lives in order to tell these tales so accurately.

Berlin writes elegantly, but it is what she writes about that keeps a reader engaged. She is unflinching in describing situations that would make many readers uncomfortable – a young girl pulling the teeth from her grandfather, an alcoholic crawling to the store for a fix, a woman preparing to get an abortion. Berlin does not back down from writing about difficult or gruesome subjects; her stories thrive on them. She turns the disturbing into a scene you cannot stop reading as when the main character in “Dr. H.A. Moynihan” describes her grandfather after all his teeth have been self-removed. “Without any teeth, his face was like a skull, white bones above the vivid bloody throat. Scary monster, a teapot come alive, yellow and black Lipton tags dangling like parade decorations.” When Berlin tells the story of an alcoholic mother, the woman’s gradual transformation from a barely functioning human to a halfway decent parent sneaks up on the reader, showing how a drink can be the normalizing element for an alcoholic.

And she is not only a powerful writer, but a funny one (granted, the humor is dark in most cases). In one story, she writes of her mother and sister and the ofrendas — a collection of items to welcome the deceased to the afterlife — that accompany them in death. On her mother’s ofrenda, the main character writes that there are “sleeping pills and guns and knives, since she was always killing herself. No noose…she said she couldn’t get the hang of it.” Although you don’t want to, you cannot help but laugh at the obvious joke. In another story, she makes a blatant pun about a character’s mistreatment of a police officer when drunk. “I owe Wong one [an apology]. I wronged Wong for sure.”

Berlin’s stories leave the reader wanting more, but shortening the collection could have made for a greater impact. By the end of the 43 short stories, readers could be burnt out from the onslaught of emotions that they produce. Omitting the less powerful stories would allow for some breathing room for the readers, letting them digest the message of each story individually rather than piling them on until they cannot make sense of how they feel.

However, the conclusion of the book is the most impactful. The final story “Homing” follows an older, sick woman who seems to be nearing death. She is reflecting on her past as she studies the crows that inhabit the maple in tree in her yard. As she recalls events in her life, she imagines the alternative paths her life might have taken if she had chosen differently, if an earthquake had hit, if she had married someone else. Some of the imagined events connect to stories from earlier in the book, making it seem as though this woman is the narrator from all of them and the reader has become a character in her story. In closing, she decides that whether she had chosen differently or not, “my life would have ended exactly as it has now, under the limestone rocks of Dakota Ridge, with crows.”

The reader can’t help but agree.


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About the Author: Lucia Berlin (1936-2004, pronunciation: Lu-see-a) published 77 short stories during her lifetime. Most, but not all, were collected in three volumes from Black Sparrow Press: Homesick (1991), So Long (1993), and Where I Live Now (1999). These gathered from previous collections of 1980, 1984, and 1987, and presented newer work.


About the Author of this Post: Michaela Daly is a junior at North Central College and is majoring in English and Journalism. She enjoys short walks to the couch and refrigerator, and all potato-based foods.

Review of “H is for Hawk” by Helen Macdonald

h-is-for-hawkH is for Hawk is a memoir which confronts themes of depression, obsession, and loneliness; all of which Macdonald artfully highlights in her first scene describing the tumultuous “landscape [she’s] come to love very much indeed.” This English landscape is reminiscent of all the grey-scape dreariness that postmodern authors like Thomas Pynchon evoked when describing industrialized Britain; a land of “twisted pine trees, burned-out cars, shotgun-peppered road signs and US Air Force bases”. Macdonald’s self-proclaimed love of the desolate is explored throughout the memoir, with the motif of a lost and desolate world as a common thread.

In the beginning of the memoir, Macdonald’s father passes away from a sudden accident. Macdonald’s emotional foundations are sundered and she is left longing for “that world already gone, [where she] was going for dinner with Christina… who’d been there all along, sitting on the sofa when the phone rang”. The death of her father silently kills the world which she lived in.

Macdonald’s isolation and depression also plays out in her own attempts to dampen the natural ferocity of her goshawk, a process which is juxtaposed with the futile attempts of the literary giant T.H. White to train his own hawk. Macdonald digs into the life of White and discovers a past of abuse and despair which played out into White’s search to regain that childhood which he felt he has lost. In Macdonald’s desire to relive that time of innocence in which her father was alive, a feeling of deep empathy is established between the two authors.

In one of the most gripping scenes of Helen Macdonald’s memoir, T. H. White wanders a darkened barn after having spent two sleepless nights attempting to break the will of Gos, his temperamental Goshawk. In a manic fervor, White “had refused the humanity in favour of hawks, but he could not escape himself… He found himself in a strange, locked battle with a bird that was all the things he longed for, but had always fought against”. It is a jarring scene, as those who are familiar with White know him as the author of The Once and Future King, the man who forged the modern mythos of King Arthur and inspired the countless medieval dreams of children. In this scene, White’s red-rimmed eyes are facing the deep schism that separates his amiable public self and the insecure child buried in his soul.

Macdonald turns towards her relationship with White’s work, specifically the pseudo-autobiographical novel The Goshawk, to confront her own world split in two by grief. She utilizes her pedigree as a research scholar from the University of Cambridge to present a well-detailed and factual historical analysis of the art of falconry and T. H. White’s literary impact, enriching the memoir with a scholarly depth that pairs well with her evocation of raw emotion. The breadth of topics which Macdonald effortlessly blends together is astounding; she proves to be a true artist who understands both complex philosophy and the potential of memoir. Macdonald deconstructs the invisible wall dividing history from present in her deeply personal analysis of White’s literature. However, it is her emotional vulnerability that will draw most readers in; Macdonald’s candid style paints a beautiful picture of the paradoxical mania which brooding depression can cause. Macdonald’s soaring prose combines with an intoxicating topic that allows H is for Hawk’s to sink its talons into readers of any background.


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About the Author: Helen Macdonald is a writer, poet, illustrator, historian and affiliate at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge. Her books include Falcon (2006) and Shaler’s Fish (2001)

 


About the Author of this Post: Nathan Leatherman is a junior at North Central College majoring in English with a literature focus. He spends his days reading books, braiding his hair, and relaxing next to bubbling brooks. His goal in life is to own a private library/dog hotel.

Review of “The Anatomist” by Taryn Schwilling

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In Taryn Schwilling’s book of poetry The Anatomist, the desire for the body and the desire for knowledge of the body dominate her collection of poems. The detailed descriptions of the human body, as well as graphic descriptions of the bodies of animals in the section “Meats,” sensualize and romanticize parts of the body that are often seen as repulsing. The Anatomist is a must read with its unique writing style, and gripping, forceful imagery.

The erotic descriptions that permeate Schwilling’s poetry are seen in the collection “Hyster,” in the first section: “Venus rises on her pink shell/ Stem Swell upward and out”. Using Venus, the Roman goddess love and sexuality, Schwilling introduces her main subject- the female body. By focusing on Venus and the act of her rising from the ocean, Schwilling creates a sensual tone, making every aspect of the female body beautifully poetic. The diction used in this first section describing Venus rising from the ocean is sensual, with the repetition the word “swell,” which Schwilling uses throughout “Hyster” either as an illusion to a sexual organ or to a general sense of sexuality. In the ninth section of “Hyster,” she writes: “your appealing emptiness/ her slim his swell/ reminiscent promenade”. The “slim” and “swell” mentioned represent the different sexual organs of a man and woman, with the illusion to the sexual act seen in the combination of these two in the last few lines of the poem. In this poem the sexual act is not explicit, but rather the language Schwilling uses leaves the reader wrapped up the lyrical sound of the poem and unique diction, giving the sexual act and the sexual organs themselves these same qualities, making them a beautiful essential part to the poem.

Schwilling’s poetry appeals to the senses in way that is truly remarkable. The section “Meat,” features descriptions that project clear images and are hard to forget. The descriptions of the different animals and how they are butchered are detailed, leaving a clear image in the mind, however the descriptions play a specific function as parallels to the female body. Schwilling uses the various animal descriptions as a metaphor for the objectification of the female body, which is made more impactful with the gripping imagery of animals being slaughtered. In “A Vision of St. Eustace,” the speaker creates an artificial woman, with specific features: “Arrange the skin Grecian. I’m contemporary & you’re human. So lifelike. Arsenic soap or salt or alum. Your new museum eyes. Sewn up, splitting forth”. In the creation of this artificial female body, the poet shows the physical expectations society places upon women, and how only a man-made, artificial being could live up to every physical aspect society places upon women. Words like “soap,” “salt,” “sewn,” and “splitting” all have the same sound that the beginning creating a an almost robotic, artificial, like sound when combined with the short sentences.

The punctuation and line spacing Schwilling uses throughout her poems, is interesting in that punctuation is often not used or hardly used at all in certain sections, instead she uses larger spaces between words to show a change in thought. While this writing style does increase the tone in some poems, it can make the flow hard to follow, and the meaning elusive at times. The lack of punctuation can be seen in first stanza of the poem “Eris”: “She is laid out supplicant/ in a posture the opposite of/ feral heaviness”. The quote shows not only the lack of punctuation, but also the unique spacing, seen between “feral” and “heaviness” and between “posture” and “the.” While the spacing functions as a kind of punctuation, in that it forces the reader to pause, it can also be difficult to follow.

The Anatomist presents the female body in a uniquely poetic light, using every part of the body to create a story with sensual imagery that is hard to ignore or forget. Schwilling challenges the way society portrays only certain aspects of the female body as beautiful, and uses brilliant metaphors to show the unrealistic and dangerous beauty standards placed on women. By making aspects of the female body, like the womb, beautiful and brilliant, Schwilling works against the notion that a woman’s reproduction organs are gross and not something beautiful.


taryn-schwillingAbout the Author: Taryn Schwilling is a recipient of a Fulbright grant. Has recently lived, taught, and conducted research in Cambodia and Iraq. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Boise State University, Taryn is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Denver


About the Author of this Post: Madison Rehovsky is a senior at North Central College majoring in English Studies and History. She loves reading, drinking coffee, and collecting old books. She plans to move back to Minnesota to pursue a career in publishing or museum work.

Review of “The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

the-buried-giantI have a childish sweet tooth for medieval tales, of castles besotted with knights and magical creatures, so it comes as no surprise I would pick up the post-Arthurian story The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro. The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel, leads the reader on the journey of protagonist couple, elderly Axl and Beatrice, as they travel, searching for their son, through the mist, which saps almost all past memory that blankets the land of England. Axl and Beatrice encounter conflicts, both literal and figurative, along the trail: the Saxon warrior Wistan and his foil, nephew to King Arthur, Sir Gawain; a pious sect of monks rumored to know the secret behind the mist; a dragon that is coveted and hunted by many and finally, a tension between Saxons and Britons for reasons buried behind the misty veil.

Ishiguro’s writing style intrigues me; he speaks across the pages in simplistic fashion, “For warmth and protection, the villagers lived in shelters,” and it is this manner that makes his story easy to follow by even a child, however, it does not stop at the level of narration. What reader of fantasy is not drawn to the clash of arms between warrior valor and despised monster or the long-awaited triumph of love over all obstacles? Ishiguro sends all these desired elements to the background. Why does he take the succinct morsels of any fantasy and render them as mundane as greens on a dinner plate? Perhaps Ishiguro is drawing our attention away from that cliché, like a chef offering a new dish instead of the old with a twist. As it is, for a new attempt to be flawless is a rare occurrence. Ishiguro struggles with his ingredients. For much of the novel, Ishiguro conceals the identity of the narrator, “I have no wish to give the impression that this was all there was to the Britain of those days,” and within different portions of the story Ishiguro switches between third and first person, here taking the role of Sir Gawain or a humble boatman, a choice that left me confused at times. His plot also suffers a crisis part way into the novel. Similar to Axl and Beatrice forgetting “how talk of this journey had started, or what it had ever meant to them,” Ishiguro has forgotten where his adventure started out only to end up deep into the woods fighting mythical creatures, escaping a monastery of monks and following an old, senile knight all while trying to find the path forward.

Ishiguro might not be the King Arthur of the kitchen, but I still found his novel The Buried Giant fun to read. Following Axl and Beatrice brought back memories of times spent with my own grandparents; moments when Beatrice’s chides Axl, ““Stop that, Axl” Beatrice whispered. “They won’t thank you for singing lullabies to them,”” or hearing Axl, with grandfatherly pride, exclaim, “No one’s ever said I’m slow in my work, princess.” Ishiguro’s other characters give me a nostalgic memory of past movies and stories within the comedic moments of Sir Gawain, “I’m a knight and a Briton too. Armed, it’s true, but come closer and you’ll see I’m just a whiskery old fool,” or the image of Axl and Beatrice floating downstream in a pair of wicker baskets. I chose to simply savor the dish Ishiguro served for the new form he offered in lieu of repeated plots.

If by chance you find yourself holding a copy of The Buried Giant, I prompt you to give it a read. Ishiguro attempts to strike a different flavor of fantasy storytelling and while not the five-star entrée, it has its own je ne sais quoi. Perhaps you too will discover a precious memory shrouded within the mists.


ishiguroAbout the Author: Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Nagasaki, Japan, in 1954 and came to Britain at the age of five. He is the author of six novels: A Pale View of Hills (1982, Winifred Holtby Prize), An Artist of the Floating World (1986, Whitbread Book of the Year Award, Premio Scanno, shortlisted for the Booker Prize), The Remains of the Day (1989, winner of the Booker Prize), The Unconsoled (1995, winner of the Cheltenham Prize), When We Were Orphans (2000, shortlisted for the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go (2005, Corine Internationaler Buchpreis, Serono Literary Prize, Casino de Santiago European Novel Award, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize). Nocturnes (2009), a collection of stories, was awarded the Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa International Literary Prize.


About the Author of this Post: Mark Edwards is a transfer student to North Central College in his junior year pursuing a degree in English Studies. Prior studies at Waubonsee Community College were in theatre, which fueled his passion for film and acting. Mark, born and raised in Illinois, spent his summer of 2015 living in Los Angeles and plans to return after graduation at NCC in hopes of getting far, far away from winter.

Interview with Joshua Robbins

robbinsJoshua Robbins is the author of Praise Nothing (University of Arkansas Press, 2013). His recognitions include the James Wright Poetry Award, the New South Prize, selection for the Best New Poets anthology, and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship in poetry from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He is Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at University of the Incarnate Word. He lives in San Antonio. 


How did you get started writing? And did you always want to be a writer?

I suppose I started writing poems in high school, mostly imitations of Sylvia Plath and Sharon Olds, David Bowie lyrics, as well as some fiction/prose modeled after William S. Burroughs and Jean-Paul Sartre. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing in terms of craft, nor did I plan on “becoming a writer.” But I do think those first steps were toward a path of apprenticeship in poetry that began in earnest in college and in my MFA program. I had no sense of writing as career choice until my poetry teacher in college, Laurie Lamon, pulled me aside and told me I could “make a career of poetry.” At the time, I was excited by the notion, but had no idea what that would mean for the future and the trajectory of my life in poetry.

 How long did you have to submit before you were published in a journal? 

I started submitting work in earnest around 2001 when I discovered that my MFA peers were doing so and finding success. I placed my first poem in The Canary River Review (which became The Canary and, later, Canarium Books) in 2002.

What advice do you have for young authors trying to get published?

Wait. Be patient. Don’t submit your work until it’s ready. (You’ll know when that is.) Focus on learning the craft. Read, read, read. Read widely and deeply. I realize none of my answer so far is about actually trying to get published, but I’m reticent to give nuts and bolts advice to young authors because I’ve found that, over the last 5-10 years, undergraduates are incredibly anxious about publishing, which is astonishing to me. It’s a considerable problem with the po-biz and the focus on being a career writer. Believe me: there’ll be plenty of opportunities for worrying and publishing later. Now’s the time for reading and studying, searching your own poetics and voice, figuring it out. But, if you do need me to answer directly, I’d say look to get involved with literary publishers and literary arts organizations in your area. It’s important, I think, to get a sense of how publishing works and how other writers do it. Get involved in your school’s literary arts journal. Put together a reading series with some friends. Share your work in public. Give your poems an opportunity to interact with the community of actual people around you, then you can look to submit for print publication.

 Do you think there are any special challenges associated with getting a poetry book, such as Praise Nothing, published, compared to a novel?

I’ll be honest and tell you that the process for publishing a novel is one I cannot relate to in any way. Sure, it’s all “writing,” but the business end of fiction is wholly different from poetry, for the most part. My fiction-writer friends talk about getting agents and landing contracts, “advances,” which don’t exist in poetry. (Especially the advances.) For me, publishing Praise Nothing was the result of submitting the manuscript to contests over a two-year period. Sometimes I think people don’t realize that, for poets, getting a book published within the contest system can cost a significant sum of money, which also, I think, results in slamming doors in the faces of many writers who can’t afford to participate in the game. It’s really unfortunate.

 Do you have any writing rituals?

I used to get up at 4am every morning, make coffee, and get down to business writing. If I had any “rituals” in the past, I suppose they were more object oriented, more like talismans: a particular coffee mug, earplugs, hooded sweatshirt, a specific pen and notebook. Now that I have children (three boys: 4, 2, and 3 months), time doesn’t afford rituals. Or talismans. I jot notes on whatever’s around: receipts, envelopes, my arm. I’ve recently started making notes in Evernote on my phone and have found that, when I do have an extended period of time to just write, I can get into drafting much more quickly because I already have the raw materials at hand.

Could you explain your writing process to us?

I usually begin drafting longhand in a large notebook or on a legal pad and listening for the emerging language’s cadence and the line’s natural measure. After that, it’s long process of making pass after pass over the poem: counting syllables and scrapping the excess. In the past, I would usually work toward a three- or four- or five-beat line. Now, that’s not so much the case. For me, though, the process of revising is how I come to figure out the poem’s content, movement, figuration, etc., and what questions I want the poem to ask, what arguments I want to make.

 Who or what influences your writing? Do you have literary heroes?

I think influences change over time. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Adrienne Rich, Robert Lowell, and Charles Wright, were very important to me when I first started writing. I’d put all of them on my “literary heroes” list. Most recently, I think what influences my poetry most are my readings in theology, particularly in the area of theodicy and theopoetics.

 I noticed that in a few of your poems, religion, specifically heaven, comes up. I noticed this first in “Heaven As Nothing but Distance.” Would you be willing to elaborate on how/why this topic seems to influence some of your writing?

 

I am, quite simply, obsessed with matters of faith and doubt, with what I believe is a broken connection to the transcendent. Always have been. Poetry is my means for considering and examining this struggle. And it’s really the only mode of artistic expression I’ve got. The act of writing, the process, is the means by which I can begin to approach and, maybe, understand the disorder of my day-to-day life and, perhaps, become a means to locate some order, to locate meaning in the confusion and chaos of being.

 


About the author of this post: Nicholas Drazenovic is currently a senior at North Central College and is a co-editor of 30 North. He is studying English with a concentration in Writing, as well as Computer Science. After graduation, he hopes to pursue a career in either technical writing or software development.

Interview with Pedro Ponce

pedro-2_0 Pedro Ponce is the author of Stories After Goya (Tree Light Books ), Alien Autopsy (Cow Heavy Books), and Superstitions of Apartment Life  (Burnside Review Press). His fiction has appeared in Ploughshares , Alaska Quarterly Review, Gigantic, PANK , Copper Nickel and other journals; his work has also been featured in the anthologies The Beacon Best of 2001  (edited by Junot Diaz) and Sudden Fiction Latino. His book reviews appear regularly in the Review of Contemporary Fiction and The Los Angeles Review. A 2012 National Endowment for the Arts fellow in creative writing, Pedro teaches courses at St. Lawrence University in fiction writing, literary research, and conspiracy theory


How did you get started writing?

I can’t remember a specific moment when I started or decided to start. I can, however, point to a couple of signposts. When I was eleven or so, I saw a production of Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth on TV, and I remember loving the way the characters talked to the audience from the stage. I also remember a high school English class where a teacher explained symbolism in a short story by Irwin Shaw called “The Eighty-Yard Run.” My teacher just kept pulling back layers of the story and revealing all this stuff going on under the surface. These are both moments when I was struck by what language can do, though I’m sure there are others I can’t specifically remember. Such experiences convinced me that I wanted to do something with writing.

What advice do you have for writers just starting out?

I don’t want to sound like an English professor (which I am, actually), but read. Read a lot. Read widely. Don’t just read what your teachers tell you to read, or what your friends are reading. If I had only read what my teachers told me to read, I would never have discovered as many possibilities for how to write and what to write about. Don’t get me wrong—the syllabus is a good starting point. But if you’re serious about becoming a writer, it’s only a starting point.

Could you explain your writing process for us?

I keep a notebook where I record ideas. “Ideas” is actually a generous way of describing what I jot down. What I really work from are images and bits of language. I’ll just record something and let it sit for a while—months or even years. After some time, those bits will gather other bits to them—an image will suggest a place, for instance, or a sentence fragment will hint at a narrator’s voice. That’s when I start imagining my way into a story, sentence by sentence. Sentences turn into paragraphs, paragraphs into scenes, scenes (eventually) into a story.

How has your work evolved over time?

After years as a short-story writer, I’m finishing my first novel. (There have been others, but this one is the first that feels complete to me.) The transition has been rough. My short stories feel easier to control; the big picture can be seen all at once. If you change something on p. 103 of a novel, it potentially affects the narrative in any number of ways, from 1-102, and from 103 onwards. I had to let go of my sentence-by-sentence process and just hammer out a draft in order to figure out the bigger structure. That first draft was a mess! But there was also another kind of pleasure that (gradually) emerged once I started hacking away—the clarity that emerged when discovering connections between different characters, settings, and ideas. Those connections wouldn’t have been revealed without thinking on a novel’s scale. I look at some of my published stories now and wonder if I cut off possibilities in them by seeing them as shorter narratives.

Your work often takes the common and makes it uncommon. Apart from Francisco Goya, the namesake of your chapbook Stories After Goya, where does this influence come from?

My favorite stories are often those that play with perception. For instance, C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books don’t start off in Narnia. They start off pretty realistically, on the ordinary side of the wardrobe. I feel the same way about Ray Bradbury  (and George Saunders, and Kelly Link, and Mary Caponegro, and Angélica Gorodischer, and…). In each of these authors, there are compelling characters and plots, but more importantly, you see your own world differently, even after you put the book down. I like to think that I’m part of this tradition.

How has your skill of making strange developed over time?

Very slowly. The uncanny is often obscured by the clever, which gets a few laughs but rarely sticks with you. I’m not sure I can articulate the difference beyond rough analogies. When I read something clever (or write something clever), I can always feel the author reading over my shoulder, nudging me as I turn pages in order to ask (rhetorically), “Wasn’t that funny?” I may laugh at something uncanny, but I know I’m alone and I’m afraid to take my eyes off the page because if I do, I could find myself inside the very story I’m reading.

Your novel Dreamland is a dystopia. What was the rationale behind this?

Dystopia is hot! At least, I thought it was hot when I started Dreamland in 2012. By the time I had a handle on the story (see above), it was clear that my dystopia was not going to be hot. It was going to be cold. Very cold. Without much of a hero or a moral message. Unfortunately, this lack of hotness is what interested me most and motivated me to finish.

Now that it’s mostly said and done, I recognize important similarities between Dreamland, and my previous (unpublished) novel. That last project was supposed to be a novel in short episodes, based on Goya’s etchings. (A sequence of remnants came out as Stories After Goya.) Both of these projects have dystopian elements, and I think it’s because the line between present and disastrous imagined future seems to be thinning every day. Dystopia is reality if you follow the news. So I guess you could call Dreamland my first significant foray into documentary realism.

What is one question about your writing no one ever asks you? Could you answer it?

It’s not so much a question I never get asked, but it’s how the question is asked. My work is often considered in terms of what’s lacking rather than what it’s doing (or trying to do). The language is dense; the characters can be hard to sympathize with because they are placed at a distance from the reader; the plots aren’t exactly page-turners. So it would be nice if I were asked why I do what I do, instead of why I don’t do what I could/should do.

Funny you should ask…The worst thing a reader can say, in my opinion, is “I’ve been there before.” Don’t even get me started on being “relatable.” If something is relatable, it’s easier to set aside and forget. But maybe some stories can live on, even if only as shadows, those feelings and experiences we only think aren’t there because we haven’t been paying attention.


 

About the author of this post: Hope Kennedy is a sophomore at North Central College, where she’s studying English and Management. Likes include writing, cats, and sleeping in on rainy days. Dislikes include inaccurate movies based on good books, the sound people make when they chew ice, and that awkward smile you exchange with a stranger when you make eye contact.