A Review of “Hunger” by Roxane Gay

hunger-a-memoir-of-my-body-by-roxane-gayHunger by Roxane Gay

Review by Tiara Hawkins, Mike Larrea, and Tatiana Guerrero

Dear Tatiana and Mike

Hunger is probably one of the most heart-wrenching and powerful memoirs I have ever read.  Written by Roxane Gay, the author of Difficult Women, Hunger is a personal and harrowing tale that details her struggle with weight and how it has impacted her childhood, teens, and twenties. In the beginning, she opens up with the struggle of dealing with her “wildly undisciplined” body and how she claims she is “trapped in in a cage” (Gay 17) because of the rape she suffered when she was twelve years old. So, she turned to food as a comfort, gaining more and more weight because “[If] I [Gay] felt undesirable, then I could keep more hurt away” (Gay 15).  I felt a strong sense of understanding with this topic. I don’t know about you guys, but while I’ve never struggled with my weight, I know first hand about what trauma can do and how it can decimate a person until they are nothing. You feel like nothing so you treat yourself like you are nothing because that’s what you feel what you deserve.

I liked how straight-forward and honest about the content of her memoir, stating that “This is not a weight-loss memoir. There will be no picture of a thin version of me, my slender body emblazoned across this book’s cover…Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story” (Gay 4). I find myself admiring her cutthroat approach of warning the reader that not every book will have happy endings. Life is full of hardships; most things will inevitably get worse before it gets better, until you reach a place in your life to balance out the bad and the semi-good things that come across your life.

I look forward to hearing from the both of you soon,

Tiara

Dear Tiara and Mike,

I also found Hunger to be a very well written and powerful memoir. This novel really helped me to understand Gay’s struggles in ways I never would have imagined. Gay’s trauma plays a very large role in her struggle with her body, and in a way this memoir puts you into her body and makes you feel all of her imperfections. Like Tiara I also felt as if I could better understand her point of view when Gay went into detail about her trauma. She looks at her body as a constant physical reminder of the trauma she endured: “The past is written on my [Gay] body. I carry it every single day,” (Gay 41). Through all of this, she also struggles to fully tell her story for the next 25 years and had chosen to keep this trauma a secret from everyone. However, now that she is in the state of mind to be able to write this memoir she is also able to begin to unravel how she felt, and how this trauma has shaped her mind. “Those boys treated me [Gay] like nothing so I became nothing,” (Gay 45). This analogy works really well in that it paints a picture of what’s wrong with anti-feminist thinking. Girls’ bodies are viewed as objects that are only in existence to serve men. So, when you ingrain this into a twelve-year old girl’s brain that her assault is a result of her having a nice body, then it only makes sense that she would in turn choose to destroy it to avoid having to face that trauma again. However, it wasn’t until high school that she learned that, “being raped wasn’t my [Gay’s] fault,” (Gay 71). Yet, even with this new possibility of healing we see that Gay doesn’t see herself being able to truly heal.

Gay’s trauma being a key factor for her weight gain is very in tune with current social issues. I think that is what made this novel so successful was it’s urgency with a topic so prevalent. She cites many examples of how she is discriminated in the American culture because she is overweight. We see the importance of understanding mental illness in today’s society. Without understanding Gay’s mental struggles over most of her life we wouldn’t really be able to see how that has shaped who she is. Without this back story all we see is a woman who became medically overweight, but once we have the trauma we understand that she is a woman who is a victim of rape culture. Eating was Gay’s coping mechanism, and not a result of being lazy. In a world where girls are told to dress more conservatively to avoid harassment from boys, Gay’s adolescent self took that one step further and changed her body to protect herself.

One thing I noticed that was very prominent in this section was that Gay tip-toed around the subject of her trauma before diving in with details. This left me feeling somewhat confused because for a while I didn’t think she was ready to acknowledge that part of her life. With this being such a sore subject I began to wonder if the trauma was too painful for her to write about. However, then she dove in and that part felt somewhat abrupt to me. The writing leading up to the story didn’t seem to flow very well into it. Once she had actually gotten into the story I feel that the writing became more comfortable and all of her ideas began to reconnect.

I look forward to your thoughts,

Tatiana

Dear Mike and Tatiana,

Following up with Tatiana’s statements, Gay elaborates how, while she is the cause for her weight gain, she does not agree with the extreme health and beauty standards that America has adopted. Obesity is not only looked down upon in America, but in several different cultures as well. Gay is Haitian-American and in her heritage and household, being overweight becomes a huge concern. She states “when you are overweight in a Haitian family, your body is a family concern” (Gay 55), mostly, as she also explains, is the fact that they associate being overweight with being gluttonous. As some of you may know, Haiti is (sadly) mostly known for being underdeveloped and poverty stricken. Though this is just a common stereotype, people only have an outside point of view. However, because of the psychological trauma she suffered as a result of her rape, she is never successful in keeping the weight off for long. Both cultures have a very negative outlook on individuals who are overweight and while not all people think that way, the media portrays it as such. 

This is very disheartening because not every person that is considered “skinny” are not always considered healthy and not every person who is considered “fat” is not always unhealthy. I have a family member that is constantly struggling with her weight because of her battles with depression and bipolar disorder. Because of this, she has adopted unhealthy eating habits, finding comfort in the one thing that continues to impact her negatively until this date. She also suffers from a number of different health complications like diabetes and sleep apnea. It can be frustrating to see how unhappy she is because of the way she looks. I don’t know about you guys, but it’s hurtful to watch the ones you love destroy themselves from the inside-out. It can be frustrating to see how unhappy they are because of the way they look. As I got older, I realized that the way you see yourself is all about perception and the cultural values which can impact those that do not fit within the norms. The terms “skinny” and “fat” have both become so skewed by society, that many people grow up not ever being fully comfortable with themselves because the definitions of the terms change so frequently even though the human body can not

Let’s talk about this some more in our next correspondence,

Tiara

Dear Tatiana and Tiara:

I hope you both appreciated that I actually had to get out of bed to make coffee in order to write this and have it make sense. I was not coherent about 10 minutes ago.

You two have raise quite a few points about the struggles that this young woman faces with her introduction into American society. The literature is insightful into a very real situation that exists, especially in America. People who visit from foreign countries may be taken off guard with the harsh body standards that are present here. This is not to say that Haitians don’t like to eat, but they have a different societal expectation. In fact “Haitians love the food from our island, but they judge gluttony” (Gay 55). In America, gluttony is not such a publicly shameful thing, but being raised with different values has effects on people. Gay is one such example where her perception of body image was thrown off with the negative outlook she started to have about herself when she learned how the terms “fat” and “skinny” were used so extremely. Though she suffered with these standards, she also gained insight into how Americans differ from other countries’ populations and how people view themselves.

The fact that we mention that the author appears to tip toe around the recollection of past events in her life is an interesting prospect. One would beg the question as to why this might be the case. A few suggestions come to mind after reminding me what I had read. Gay could be nervous about remembering what had occurred in her life, not wanting to have to recall the traumatic experiences and the feelings associated with them. Another possibility is that she aimed to entice the reader to keep reading the work about gain more interest as time goes on. It could be as simple as a marketing ploy, but most would tend not to think this way. There are multiple interpretations that one could develop by journeying through this memoir. Perhaps one of you could offer some insight into her struggle with her body.

Best,

Mike 

Dear Tiara and Mike,

To further dive into what Mike was working through on Gay’s struggle, I feel that Gay makes a point to say that the struggle she faces with her body is even more complicated by the shame she feels. Fat-shaming becomes an ever-present problem for her in her daily life, which we see when she says, “When I am walking down the street, men lean out their car windows and shout vulgar things at me about my body, how they see it, and how it upsets them that I am not catering to their gaze,” (Gay 188). She explains that this creates a conflicting environment for her (Gay 199). There is shame in the fact that she would have an eating disorder as a fat girl. She tells us that people are more likely to support correcting an eating disorder.

I think Gay hits the mark with another major social issue within this section, which I think only strengthen her writing. The last few years have been dedicated to focusing on body positivity. We see actors and singers like Demi Lovato who suffered with eating disorders as well as bipolar disorder. We also see actors like Jennifer Lawrence who worked to be a strong female lead that looks healthy instead of too skinny. We’ve even seen some countries like France ban the use of models that look too underweight from modeling as well as an increase in the amount of “plus-size” modeling included in magazines. The world is trying to move to a place that eradicates shame for being bigger. However, we still tend to really only focus on eating disorders where the person is only becoming too skinny. If they’re already fat we don’t really see it as an issue, but rather as a solution. This is what Gay made a point of when explaining her own struggle with eating disorders. She suffered from bulimia, but she never got to the point where she was skin and bones. Her body remained “imperfect.” Using this point of view on eating disorders helps us to see why Gay struggled so much in truly being able to come to terms and accept that she had an actual eating disorder that needed medical attention. She let it go on because she knew society didn’t see it as that big of an issue.

Warm regards,

Tatiana

Dear Tiara and Tatiana:

As I eat my incredibly unhealthy fast food, I am writing about eating disorder which is ironic to say the least. I have a McChicken and some fries to be exact.

Eating disorders are another major concern that many people have sensitivity to. It would be best that we stride carefully when referring to these concerns. It looks like we are doing just fine at this point which is great. The eating disorder that Gay faces in this book is a detail that could stand for a little more detail. That being said, I would propose the question of when Gay originally became aware of the eating disorder. The issues could stem from the manner in which she was raised and the values that she was raised by. She may not have been considered to have an eating disorder until certain people came across her and decided as such. Gay’s journey back through her younger years is as much of a recollection as it is a way for her to see how much outsiders influenced how she felt about herself.

Body positivity is another movement that we can appreciate throughout this book. People are typically supported when they decide to change their eating habits, but in a healthy manner. This memoir shows this by sharing how she “became vegetarian because [she] needed a way of ordering [her] eating that was lee harmful” (Gay 199). Gay went through her situation at a time before the body positivity movement was blown up as it is today. However, one could note that body image problems have always been present among woman and men, and especially focused in America. Only recently has it grown enough to sincerely be supportive. This is a good theme from the book: addressing body image concerns.

From the warmth of my bed,

Mike

***

Afterword from the Writers

Roxane Gay’s Hunger focuses on immediate social issues of body image. The book was written as a memoir to her body and she does something out of the box by using her body as a vessel to truly represent these issues. She brings to light issues such as stereotyping, mental health, eating disorders, and fat shaming all by using her own experiences. In these experiences we see firsthand that these issues are very real and in turn can have a depreciating effect on the human body.


61jizcrzvxl-_ux250_About the Author: Roxane Gay’s writing appears in Best American Mystery Stories 2014, Best American Short Stories 2012, Best Sex Writing 2012, A Public Space, McSweeney’s, Tin House, Oxford American, American Short Fiction, Virginia Quarterly Review, and many others. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times. She is the author of the books Ayiti, An Untamed State, the New York Times bestselling Bad Feminist, the nationally bestselling Difficult Women and the New York Times bestselling Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel. She has several books forthcoming and is also at work on television and film projects.


About the Authors of this Post: Tiara Hawkins is a junior majoring in English with a writing emphasis. She enjoys reading and sleeping when she is not working or going to school. She works as a reader and operates the Facebook and Tumblr page for 30 N.

Michael Larrea, on his last term at North Central College, is majoring in Information Technology. His knowledge of how to make equipment work really helps with events that 30 North has wanted to host this year. He is forward thinking and expressive with his ideas.

Tatiana Guerrero is a senior at North Central College pursuing an English writing degree. She loves curling up on the couch with a good thriller novel and a hot cup of coffee. After graduation she hopes to pursue a career in publishing.

Advertisements

A Review of “Men Without Women” by Haruki Murakami

41bhjzhdscl-_sx326_bo1204203200_

Mark & Thom,

When I saw this book on our reading list, I was overjoyed. I knew of Murakami from my dad (an avid reader) and from of my interest in Japanese culture, but had never acted on the impulse to read his work. Truthfully, I haven’t read for my own enjoyment in quite some time, and even though Men Without Women was an assignment, the book was glued to my hand this week as I found quiet, leaf-coated nooks on campus to escape. To me, there is something about Murakami’s style that draws you in from the first line, a kind of carefully constructed simplicity carrying so much meaning. For example, the very beginning of “An Independent Organ” – “There are people in the world who – thanks to a lack of intellectual acuity – love a life that surprisingly artificial.” In one sentence, Murakami easily describes the superficial way some people live, some of whom with we have all interacted at some point. As he expresses so much in so little time, it makes me wonder how the original text is worded in Japanese. If I can find a copy, I will try to use my limited knowledge of the language to learn something new and include it in my next letter if I succeed.

But, in just the title, Men Without Women – there lies the core of all seven stories. Most of the men spiral downwards when they have lost the women, each fall taking shape in individual forms of sorrow, despair, or longing. Yet, Murakami still varies the narrative: Samsa  from “Samsa in Love” is a man without a woman, unknowingly, until he meets the locksmith, and Kitaru from “Yesterday” does not become one until the end, and is better for it. Habara from “Scheherazade” is only one because he has the aforementioned eponymous woman, but not completely. All the works have varying plots and types of conflict, but if there is a man without a woman, there is also a man with one. It reminds me somewhat of Newton’s third law, where for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Reactions, complementary and contrary to emotional loss, permeate the collection.
This theme of loss, while still engrossing, is repetitive, but reflects how a certain course of events tend to repeat over and over, mirroring reality. Murakami even states how constant loss can influence a person in Men Without Women: “You might meet a new woman, but no matter how wonderful she may be . . . from the instant you meet, you start thinking about losing her” (224). Paranoia sinks in from the start, regardless of anything else. With this truth, Murakami’s take on the loss of love is fresh, detailed, and relatable, even with a pattern that has occurred forever, one that we still find ourselves in from time to time. I use the word “we” because as much as the book is about men, it is about women – after all, men cannot be without women if they do not exist. Messy, sometimes unhealthy relationships are the focal points of the work, only from a male perspective. Having specifically men narrating the stories was also a necessary choice Murakami made to describe the loneliness and pain of loss, as the women depicted did not suffer in the same way. Whenever they left the protagonists, the women usually had someone, whether a boyfriend, husband, lover, or family, to be with them. The men were left in a snowstorm, barely able to see a hand in front of their faces. Feeling themselves disappear, they remained cold, empty, alone, and exactly where Murakami wanted them.

Kaitlin

 

Kaitlin & Thom,

Kaitlin, I hope you have the opportunity to read Murakami’s work in the original language. Translation can sometimes lose nuances in the original text. I also have an interest in Japanese culture and Murakami took common individuals, with common problems, and made them interesting.

I feel that a theme of choice is also present within Men Without Women. We see men and women make them, and see the consequences of the decision. In “Yesterday,” Kitaru’s situation is summed in his line “I known her since she was a kid, and it’s kind of embarrassing, y’know, to act like we’re just starting out.” In one choice, Kintaru sets the course of his relationship with Erika. They miss out being together because Kitaru makes the choice to not push forward, and Erika chooses to not share her feelings with him. With “An Independent Organ,” Dr. Tokai chooses to date married women, and the same women choose to cheat on their husbands. Wrong as Dr. Tokai’s action are, he didn’t trick the women. In the end, Dr. Tokai discovers the women are using him, and he lets that knowledge destroy him. Through each of his stories, Murakami is reminding readers that we live in a messy, complicated world.

Personally, I’ve dreaded facing a sentiment Murakami has chosen as the core of his stories: loneliness. The last few years I have filled my days with so much noise as to forget my own loneliness. I fell into video games as an escape. My life followed a pattern: wake up, work my survival job, and play video games until I fell asleep. This mechanical pattern repeats often in each of Murakami’s short stories, like Kafuku, in “Drive My Car.” Since picking up Men Without Women, the loneliness that Murakami infused the soul of his stories with has pushed its way back up from that dark recess inside me, that “deep down inside your body” as Murakami put it, and left me lying awake at 4am.

I’ve lost women in my life. Two girlfriends I loved and was with for several years each. Both left, they didn’t die, they just walked away. I stood alongside each character in Murakami’s stories and felt what they felt. Except in “An Independent Organ.” I never understood the ‘casual dating’ most people do. Kino’s numbness to pain in “Kino.” Kitaru’s feeling of worthlessness in “Yesterday.” Those feelings, though, are all too familiar to me. I’ve tried to escape the grey landscape that all men without women live in. I, like Gregor Samsa in “Samsa in Love,” felt trepidation towards the new world–social scene–that we had awakened to.

Just like the “red-wine stain on a pastel carpet,” loneliness creeps and spreads out from it’s initial contact with your soul. It starts to affect you in other parts of your life. I hesitate to open up and let others know what I’m thinking or feeling. Last year, a class assignment on writing nonfiction experimental–a story of something happening as it’s happening–led me to write about my attempt at socializing again. So, I went out to a bar. I didn’t talk with anyone. I just sat on the stool, drank my beer, then left. In a weird way, that memory makes me feel just like Kamita in “Kino”, sitting quietly in the corner while passively sipping his drink and reading his book. I’ve tried to fill the loneliness with new friends, but it pushes back. I end up keeping everyone at arm’s length. In time, even they drift away. I form relations with nameless, featureless faces among crowds.

Mark

 

Kaitlin and Mark,

I find your interpretation of “choice” to be rather interesting, as, in my observations, Murakami’s stories express a theme of external “choice.” That our choices are not true representations of our free will, but rather responses to the choices that life has presented before us. Take the examples of Dr. Tokai and Kino. Both find themselves alone, in a room, dwelling upon the loneliness of their lives. Dr. Tokai chooses to waste away, while, though his narrative ends before any conclusive elements, Kino appears to move on. In Kino’s case, this option for reflection is placed before him in what he literally believes to be a manifestation of the tree by his house; the tree is presented to be symbolic of life, so it ties back to the idea of life presenting choices. Another example of such a “choice” would be Kafuku and his driver Misaki. Though she has been placed into his life by what seems to be divine will (in the story it is said that his associate recommends her, but in an literary sense, that’s essential a disguised deus ex machima.). Though it is not inherently implied that any sort of romantic connection could arise between the two, Misaki’s professional silence allows time for Kafuku to reflect and therefore choose to open up.

The book itself serves as a sort of meta-opportunity for the reader to reflect and potentially, through potential emotional connections to those represented in the book, choose to open themselves up as well.

 

Mark & Thom,

Choice and loneliness. These two themes you have brought into discussion have great influences each other in human behavior, which is what Murakami does best – portraying simple, heartbreaking reality.

People make bad choices. Everyone does, without exception; it is a fact of life. Mark, your mention of nonfiction brought up a memory which I described in a nonfiction story I wrote last year about a time when I was overcome with jealousy. An outgoing, peppy girl – my opposite – was befriending a girl to whom I felt quite close, and one day I made an overtly possessive remark. A selfish decision; an unfortunate choice. I do not know how that may have influenced my future relationship with my friend, but I know my actions were caused by a fear of abandonment. In other words, a fear of loneliness.

Loneliness influences us to make decisions to counter it, whether it be lying to keep a significant other, joining a club, or immersing oneself in novels, befriending characters because reality is too difficult. These decisions made to avoid isolation occur frequently in Men Without Women. Kafuku sought out Takatsuki for revenge, but also because he didn’t want to share the grief of his wife’s death alone. Even though they didn’t have the same level of pain, he desired companionship with someone who knew her almost as well. Erika Kuritani made the choice of sleeping with the man from the tennis club to quench her loneliness because Kitaru couldn’t be there to support her. She also lied to Kitaru because she didn’t want to suffer from his loss. Even Kitaru made a major choice to avoid isolation – adopting the Kansai accent because he didn’t want to be treated like an outsider at the Hanshin Tigers’ games. The gravity of this decision does not come across in English, but in Japanese the accent is immediately discernible from the standard Tokyo style with its elongated vowels, different contractions, and constant cacophony. Think of a harsh Brooklyn accent – while still English, the words seem so otherworldly and different. Kitaru altering his entire sound and speaking style (a large portion of one’s identity as it indicates the culture of where one was raised) just to “be part of the community” during a baseball game shows how much he needed to belong (43). We seek human connection and will do a number of things, horrible, ambitious, and selfish, to keep ourselves from being without it.

I have never been, by a basic definition, a lonely person. I’ve always had many friends with few conflicts and have dated my first boyfriend for over two years, so I haven’t experienced loss or heartbreak like the men in Murakami’s stories. But, from time to time I find myself struck with a kind of loneliness when I’m at parties or in large groups of friends. Everything is fine, and suddenly I’m pushed into the depths of a murky lake. I can hear the gurgled laughs and am periodically blinded by fleeting rays of joys, but I can’t feel the warmth. Tethered to the bottom, I smile, too, but know they are out of reach. It’s usually spurned by a shared gaze or a joke I do not understand, but, in those moments I become an outsider instantaneously.

I could make choices to establish deeper relationships to avoid this feeling, but something always holds me back. Like Kitaru, I busy myself with silly things rather than with what can be done to procure boundless possibilities. Something holds me back, and I remain stagnant.
Kaitlin

P.S. In examining my Japanese copy of Men Without Women, I discovered that “Samsa in Love” was not originally included, but was placed in the English version. This was a surprise, but made sense, as I thought that story felt a bit out of place. Gregor Samsa is also not Murakami’s own character. Just some food for thought.

 

Kaitlin and Thom,

Kaitlin, your words of being in a “murky lake” and “tethered to the bottom” is like Scheherazade’s story of the lamprey and the trout. Is that how we are going to live our lives?  I can’t believe I would ever befriend the guy my girlfriend or spouse cheated with, Kafuku did.. That’s just too…well, messed up. You mentioned the chapter on “Samsa in Love,” which I thought was an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

I was up all night again yesterday. Murakami’s story of “Scheherazade” bothered me.Things left unfinished, left unsaid: “what he really wanted, he thought, was for her to tell him the rest of her story, but he didn’t put that into words. Doing so might jeopardize his chances of ever hearing it.” I met a girl on an elevator Saturday. The opportunity to chat was there, but I let it slide away, just as Kitaru slides away from Erika in “Yesterday”. Kitaru’s lyrics, “Yesterday/ Is two days before tomorrow,” are they pointing out the present is what’s missing? We worry about what is gone, we long for a future that waits a day out of reach, all the while wasting the single moment that we actually live in.

Last night I puzzled over a passage from “Drive My Car.” Murakami wrote “He didn’t want to imagine such things, but he couldn’t help it. The images whittled away at him like a sharp knife, steady and unrelenting. There were times he thought it would have been far better to never have known.” It ties back to the unfinished story of “Scheherazade.” I wonder at Murakami’s message. Is our desire to know what keeps us unable to move out of stagnation, out of loneliness? All the years I spent in solitude, wondering what was wrong with me that made my previous girlfriends leave, could have been avoided. I just needed to let go and move on. Murakami’s phrases between “Drive My Car” and “Scheherazade” make me think it is those individuals who cling to what was lost, analyzing every little detail, that end up alone. The inability to let it go drives us into a deeper pit. Does the pain and emptiness fade if we abandon seeking the truth in situations like those of Men Without Women?

I hope so.

Mark


Murakami_Markus Jans.JPGAbout the Author: Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949. He grew up in Kobe and then moved to Tokyo, where he attended Waseda University. After college, Murakami opened a small jazz bar, which he and his wife ran for seven years.

In 1978 Murakami was in the bleachers of Jingu Stadium watching a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat. According to an oft-repeated story, in the instant that he hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized that he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night.


About the Author’s of this Post:  Kaitlin Koncilja is a freshman at North Central College majoring in Psychology and Sociology. She enjoys Japanese, video editing, and writing poetry. She hopes to work in criminal research while still finding time for her other passions.

Mark Edwards is in his second year at North Central College as a senior in
English Studies. His prior studies at Waubonsee Community College were in
theatre, which fueled his passion for film and acting. Mark has an avid interest
in college prank culture and history. He also counts down the days until
he graduates and moves to a beach and live far, far away from winters.

 

A Review of “Patience” by Daniel Clowes

PATIENCE_FC_Colors-(1)Daniel Clowes is considered one of the most notable comic artists of our era, and has had a couple of his works made into feature length films. An example of this would be his book Ghost World, about two girls and their journey after replying to a man’s newspaper ad for a date, which was turned into a film starring Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch. He tends to feature lonely, self-loathing men who want to feel connected, but push away those that try to get close; the male ego is a constant in his works. In “Ghost World”, the man from the newspaper ad exemplifies these traits. In “Patience”, Clowes has made subtle changes of this theme, while also still remaining true to his tendencies.

As the story begins, it’s 2012 and Jack Barlow learns that Patience, his wife, is pregnant. As they are discussing their financial worries and how they will make it work, Patience reflects on her early years:

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.08.02 PM

Page 4

 

Clowes overloads the reader with tons of information in the beginning of the novel. He is purposefully using this tactic to leave the readers confused; it can be difficult to follow what is happening during the first time reading through, so it helps to read a second or even third time to truly capture all of the little intricacies. When Jack goes back to 2012, the readers will also learn more about why things played out the way that they did.

In the scene after the one shown above, Patience starts to talk about her old life but Jack doesn’t to talk about it and quickly diverts the subject back to the baby. Everything seems to go well afterwards, but if you’ve read any of Clowes’ other books, you know not to be fooled by this.

One day, Jack comes home to find Patience has been murdered. Clowes takes on the cliche of a woman, dying early on in a story to provide momentum for the rest of the story, also known as being “fridged.” There are other occasions in his works where he has used cliches to call attention to them and even parody them to reflect the current state of our culture. While they can at times be subtle jabs at the cliches, Clowes makes his purpose clear by overly drawing on the use of the cliche of Patience being “fridged” and makes it over-the-top. He does this with his use of dramatic language, especially when Jack finds Patience’s body, and his colorful palette.

After being framed for the murder of his wife and unborn child, Jack was sent to prison for 18 months. He was released after evidence appeared that proved him innocent, further giving him fuel for his quest for revenge. It’s suddenly 2029, and Clowes paints a picture of what he envisions the future to be like: inappropriately sexual public displays, monitors projecting a dictator’s speeches on loop, and people dressed in crazy outfits. A lot of this can be considered stereotypical of what people visualize when they think of the future. Clowes has been know to have depicted the future in a similar fashion in previous works of his.

Jack learns of the existence of a time-traveling device, and his hopes of seeing Patience again are hurtled into the forefront of his mind. This is when the “cosmic timewarp deathtrip” part of the tagline comes into play. The novel follows Jack as he is flung around time and space, trying to save Patience. As I mentioned earlier on, Clowes has a type. His protagonists are lonely, self-loathing creatures who have an ego. Jack is no different, and it becomes unclear at times what his true motives are in continuing on with his journey. There is a point in Jack’s journey where he contemplates why he is even doing this anymore. He doesn’t know if he’s even doing it for his wife and unborn child, or gone beyond all of that to a point of pure revenge:

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.09.24 PM.png

Page 88

 

The line becomes more and more blurred as Jack keeps leaping through time, being yanked about time and space by the time-traveling device. Jack experiences these strange visions, and his body begins breaking down and reforming. Throughout the graphic novel, Clowes includes these wild, colorful images, and during the evolution of Jack reforming, he really takes advantage of that. He uses a much broader color palette in “Patience” as compared to some of his other works, such as Ghost World with its black, white and green palette and other of his works that have stuck with the more basic black and white template. The vivid colors are very impactful in the scene where Jack’s body is being ravaged by the process of time-travel, his interior organs becoming visible through his exterior flesh.

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.10.19 PM

Pages 79-80


Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.10.33 PM

Page 97

 

While “Patience” has a similar thematic style to Daniel Clowes’ other works, there are some interesting differences. His male protagonist, while still a loner with self-deprecating tendencies, goes to great lengths to exact vengeance for his wife’s murder. Fans of his oeuvre may be conflicted about their feelings for this piece. There are several cliches that occur throughout the novel that can give readers pause, but by the end they should be able to see the way that he is using them in a parodic manner. His art style was amped up for this piece, as well, so die-hard fans may have a hard time liking the immense color palette that Clowes uses.

“Patience” is a story of love, murder, and self-discovery. Clowes paints a vivid picture of love lost, and a man doing whatever it takes to find his wife’s killer while struggling with the morality of changing fate. The visuals are so beautifully executed that Clowes’ storytelling is amplified by their use.

*Images consist of photos taken by Kayla Etherton and images found on Google


Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 6.14.09 PMAbout the Author: Daniel Clowes was born in Chicago, Illinois, and completed his BFA at the Pratt Institute in New York. He started publishing professionally in 1985, when he debuted his first comic-book series “Lloyd Llewellyn.” He has been the recipient of multiple awards for his seminal comic-book series, “Eightball.” Since the completion of “Eightball” in 2004, Clowes’ comics, graphic novel, and anthologies have been the subject of various international exhibitions. Clowes currently lives in Oakland, California with his wife and son, and their beagle.


About the Author of this Post: Kayla Etherton is a recent graduate of North Central College majoring in Graphic Design with a minor in Marketing. She enjoys reading all kinds of sci-fi/fantasy literature, but has recently been reading mostly graphic novels. She is also an alum of the NCC Women’s Track and Field Team.

A Review of “Steal It Back” by Sandra Simonds

9780991545490Sandra SimondsSteal It Back is a call to action for readers and a personal reflection that gives commentary on modern social topics including feminism, capitalism, and motherhood. Simonds takes the reader through her personal journey of stealing “it” back – everything from femininity to power, adventure to vulnerability – and along the way, readers are prompted through Simonds’ breathless, fierce writing to steal “it” back as well – whatever that may be to the reader.

The most unconventional poem of the collection is also one that best encompasses Simonds’ unique style. “Occupying” is a single paragraph that extends nearly seven pages without a single period. Though there is the occasional exclamation point or question mark, the lack of periods adds to Simonds’ quick-paced, intense voice and forces the reader to consume the poem in one breath. Simonds also utilizes repetition effectively in this poem, and in others of the collection. The line, “They are building a Catholic schoolgirl” is repeated throughout the poem. This draws the reader’s attention to Simonds’ idea that “they”, whether it be her parents or another authoritative figure in her life, tried to shape her into a good, Catholic girl, for better or worse. Simonds talks to the reader in meta fashion and seems to be replying to her critics, writing, “Oh you think this is so terrible? Well / you try to write a better one, friend.”

While it may seem like the nonstop, continuous, repetitive nature of such a poem could lose the reader’s interest, Simonds manages to transition between different subjects and scenes seamlessly; she recognizes when the reader’s mind may begin to trail off and regains traction with a fresh image or line.

Simonds’ most effective technique is to juxtapose heavy topics with the everyday.. McDonalds, Sephora, and Lady Gaga all make appearances alongside feminism, the monotony of unfulfilling jobs, divorce, and the trials of motherhood. She uses her personal experiences while still relating to the larger issues at hand in the world. In the poem, “I Grade Online Humanities Tests” she writes about her complicated relationship with a mechanic, but also about the larger issue of men feeling entitled to things because they are used to being in power. She writes, “the guns are male because he owns the guns…and Home Depot is male because he owns and owns/and owns and all he can do is own/everything that will rot/like privacy or speech or porn or black swans/or my big tits.” While her poetry may have started out for Simonds as a release for her own emotions, she expands and touches on the bigger problems in society that her life experiences bring up.

One aspect of Simonds’ writing that may not appeal to all readers is her tendency to write poems that clearly show a passing of time during her writing process. She separates some of her poems into pieces on different pages and the subject changes slightly on each page. The disconnect suggests that she may have left the poem and returned at a different time to finish it. In “A Poem For Landlords,” Simonds outright states, “I am writing this so fast./I will not be able to look/back at it but just now/I am looking back at it since I made/dinner and cleaned the house.” Some readers will be turned off by her blatancy in stating these actions and describing her writing process, however, it adds honesty and an interesting pacing of time to the poems. She may also be giving commentary on the futility of poetry in enacting change.

Simonds has created a collection that is not easy to digest, or to forget. By the time the reader reaches the final lines of the book “I know what is real/and I know how to steal/back what is mine” they won’t be able to resist the urging of Simonds to do the same.


sandra-simonds About the Author: Sandra Simonds’ poems have been included in the Best American Poetry consecutively in 2014 and 2015, and have appeared in many literary journals. She is an Associate professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Georgia, and lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

 

A Review of “LOOK” by Solmaz Sharif

12079778_10106285764738939_240672169261332420_oIn “LOOK“, Solmaz Sharif assembles personal anecdotes and perspectives to show the way the War on Terror has shaped the people of the United States’ view on Iran’s beautiful people and culture. She asks us, citizens of the United States, to “LOOK” at what we’re doing in the Middle East. Her upbringing has given her a perspective on the war in Iran that needs to be heard today, and the poems in “LOOK” demand that readers ask questions about themselves, their soldiers, and the “enemy’s” soldiers that so few people dare ask. Sharif’s poems enlighten the reader of the circumstances beyond their experience. She emphasizes the “exquisiteness” of those viewed as monstrous. She shows our apathy through the use of “DRONES,” and our dismissive nature towards the lives of those who live there. It’s clear that she strives to replace our passive nature with a passionate one, and she intends to do so by making us “LOOK.”

“LOOK” relies primarily on two ideas to establish its basis. It uses the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, particularly the 2007 version, to tell us how war affects the lives of individuals on both sides. It also uses her perspective as an Iranian-descended, Turkish-born, U.S.-raised woman to complicate public perception of war even further. Sharif blends these two ideas wonderfully, alluding to dictionary definitions of phrases like “BATTLEFIELD ILLUMINATION” followed by “on fire / a body running.” The use of military terms and definitions offers the apathetic perspective of soldiers, but her use of personal anecdotes heightens that connotation, even changing it from neutral and descriptive to painful. Her redefining of Military and Associated Terms tells the stories that the initial definitions were created to hide, of the people who are lost in the war, the people described as “Collateral” or “Dolly” by those who distance themselves from the lives in which they intervene.

On the page, Sharif uses disparate spacing, lines separated by empty space, and poems that consist of letters with redacted information all in order to show us the things we have been told not to look at. Sharif invokes a “VULNERABILITY STUDY” of people personally affected by the wars, “a newlywed securing her updo / with grenade pins” and “your face turning from mine / to keep from cumming.” She works on both sides of the war, though, showing US military coming home to their family, saying “’What a dramatic moment this is’” and “’What’s wrong? What happened? My buddy.” She asks of these moments, of these two different portrayals, “’What does that say?’”

While the core of the poems lies in observing warfare and its atrocities – the untold stories and unmentioned perspectives – it also explores race and femininity in a way that shows their intersections with the war. Sharif grew up in the United States, but she refers to a conversation with her psychiatrist in which she was asked “’So you feel like a threat?’” Her response was “Yes.” She also asks us to look at times when she felt threatened because of her gender. She also tells of times with family and friends where her and their beauties were able to shine. She talks of pictures of family lost long ago, and of the effects of the war on them and on herself. Effects like “seeing a dead body walking to the grocery store” being “kinda like acceptable.”

This is what Sharif’s poems do best: they get the reader to look at all sides of the war, in its entirety, see what it is doing to the victims and the perpetrators, see the vulnerabilities but also the strengths in the victims and perpetrators of war. Anyone who takes interest in knowing the experiences of those whose lives are surrounded by war should absolutely read this collection of works. Anyone who wants to try to understand another point of view should read “LOOK”, because it gives the reader an opportunity to do something so rarely done: a look into the lives of another, vulnerabilities and strengths, valor and atrocities included.


solmaz-sharif2About the Author: Solmaz Sharif was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents. She holds a degree from U.C. Berkeley, where she was a part of Poetry for the People, and from New York University. In 2014, she was selected to receive a Rona Jafe Foundation Writer’s Award. LOOK” was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston ReviewWitness, and various others.

Review of “Find Me” by Laura van den Berg

Find Me by Laura van den BergLaura van den Berg’s Find Me explores the mind of Joy, an orphaned cough syrup addict, as she experiences life after the potential end of American civilization.  The novel opens during Joy’s stay (or imprisonment) in a hospital searching for the cure to a disease that wipes the memories of its victims before taking their lives. Eventually, Joy escapes and wanders in search of her biological mother in a dystopian landscape. Although the novel seeks to be a more distinctive narrative in a sea of dystopian novels, Find Me maintains a sub-par impression upon the reader. Ultimately, van den Berg confuses and continually loses touch with her readers through spoon-feeding themes, disclosing unnecessary information, frequently using clichés, and distracting the reader with a jumbled organizational structure.

Throughout the novel, van den Berg spoon-feeds her audience with overstated messages of profundity. Rather than allowing the reader to dissect the possible meanings of the work, such as the importance of belonging and being found, one is bombarded by statements such as, “To be looked for is to matter” (223). The theme of the novel is not open to interpretation and discussion. Thus, the narrative feels simple and interest diminishes.

Along with overstating themes, van den Berg frequently reveals information that neither affect its plot nor its message. In the second half of the novel, a character is hinted to possess psychic or predictive abilities (176). One would believe that such a profound disclosure would affect the premise of the plot, but it did not affect any element of the novel. It was not relevant at the time of its revelation, and it continued to stay irrelevant. If the author’s intention was to add depth to the character, or to garner interest, it did not appear as such. Sequentially, the disclosure of irrelevant information invoked feelings of disappointment and confusion.

Peppered throughout Find Me, clichés particularly common to young-adult dystopian novels frustrate the reader. Towards the beginning of the novel, as Joy is reliving a memory where she watches reruns of The X-Files, she states, “I’ve never liked the things girls my age are supposed to” (34). This overused statement not only turns off the reader, but feels mildly condescending. What are 19-year-old girls supposed to like? Why must Joy declare how she’s “not like other girls”? One cannot help but interpret Joy’s declaration of difference as a method of implying superiority to stereotypically feminine women. Furthermore, as the novel continues, Joy engages in sexual activity with her roommate in the hospital, and does not shower for days to hold fast to his scent. Her desperate hold on her moments with him has a poetic appeal, but feels empty; reactions to physical love such as this have been overused in romance novels and films. As a result, the many clichés of Find Me contribute to its lack of distinction in the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre.

Along with relaying random information and overusing clichés, van den Berg distracts readers with the confusing structure of the novel. Although it is predictable, with one chapter relating the present and the next revealing the past, it distracts from the plot. The reader can easily get lost along the way by forgetting the most recent events and constantly attempting to retain information about the past. Some of the chapters reveal disturbing qualities of Joy’s past that add emotional depth to her narrative, but others feel random and unnecessary. For example, the larger portion of chapter 18 is dedicated to stating facts about Norway and the origin of the disease that has ravaged America. While the disease has arguably caused the events of Find Me, and Norway is the home to a minor character, the information given about the two falls flat, thus unnecessarily interrupting the progression of the plot. Further assisting in the disruption of the novel’s flow was van den Berg’s consistent use of three-dot breaks. For example, within the span of the five pages of chapter 40, three-dot breaks appear 10 times. The excited thoughts that Joy experiences could easily have been encapsulated in paragraph form. The information instead reads as overexaggerated and encourages the reader to rapidly skim through it in anticipation of the last page. The chapter, along with the many others that exude the same love of scene breaks, resultantly reads as choppy, scattered, and lacking in cohesiveness. Laura van den Berg’s writing style ultimately detracts from the reader’s consumption of her work.

Although Find Me loses touch with its readers, it still has some charm. Van den Berg’s use of imagery was imaginative. When Joy experiments with an unknown drug she states, “my brain is a blue jellyfish that has crawled out through my ear and is hovering somewhere along the roof of the tunnel, happy to finally be free of the body” (225). An experience with drugs may prove difficult to convincingly describe, but van den Berg has accomplished it without seeming stereotypical or overdramatic. Additionally, the language was well-written; the tone felt conversational, yet still possessed gravity and poetic qualities in the right places. The positive elements of the overall work do not cover for its flaws, but they are still present and worth considering.

Fundamentally, explicitly stated themes, excess information, the overwhelming use of clichés, and a distracting writing style effectively contribute to the lackluster impression of Find Me. If the novel had better confronted its themes without overstating them, readers would be able to fully appreciate the novel. However, its audience instead becomes disinterested and lost in a book about the act of finding.


Laura van den BergAbout the Author: Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. Find Me is her first Novel, which was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, Buzzfeed, and others.

 


About the Author of this Post: Ashley Suslowicz is a freshman at North Central College majoring in English and minoring in Sociology. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she plans to attend law school near Chicago. She loves Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and coffee.

Review of “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders With Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders tells the melancholy tale of President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to balance grieving his recently deceased son Willie with holding together a nation that’s trying its hardest to tear itself apart. Simultaneously, Saunders tells the journey of Willie Lincoln’s soul as it travels through a sort of limbo state between life and death—the bardo as the Tibetan people would call it. It’s a story that’s as bizarre and fantastic as the President’s is sad and humbling. And Saunders writes it all in brilliant technicolor prose that burns itself into the brain.

At first, the style will throw many readers off: Saunders notes the speaker of the paragraph at the end of it, and chapters are quite short with some only lasting a few lines, like a kind of rapid-fire epistolary novel. Quotation marks are almost entirely absent, and tangible strings of conversation are hard to track down. At times it seems like the characters address the reader more than anyone else on the page. Yet the reader can quickly distinguish between the characters’ voices, and eventually quotation tags seem unnecessary, like the human appendix.  Once the style feels familiar, the rest is nothing but pleasure.

The novel breaks down into two main parts: Willie’s (more accurately, his soul’s) story and Abraham’s. Willie’s soul’s story is told by several deceased fictional characters that are also spending time in limbo. These characters include the printing press professional Hans Vollman, the homosexual romantic Roger Bevins III, and the Reverend Everly Thomas. Vollman and Bevins have the most interesting relationship; their petty bickering and stubbornness is funny but also carries a deep-seated sadness with it, like Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.”

Several other characters pop in and out, but they don’t do a whole lot to move the main events forward. They don’t take anything away either. Each character, even if they appear for no more than a few paragraphs, contributes some little detail that adds to the constellation of beauty that is Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders gives us the death story of nearly (if not) all the souls we encounter in limbo: everything from a razor blade to the wrists, to a drunken carriage-trampling, to a nose-smashingly high fall from a window. The means of death often reveals more about that character than any details pertaining to their previous life, a clever narrative trick that spices up exposition and makes the introduction of new characters a treat and not a task. Many of the souls in limbo have bizarrely distorted persons, reflecting some aspect of their character. Roger Bevins III grows multiple sets of arms, ears, noses, eyes, etc. when reminiscing about the pleasant sensations of nature. Hans Vollman’s penis is perpetually swollen (for reasons you’ll have to read to find out) and sometimes grows so large that he has to hold it with both arms so he doesn’t trip over it!

These bizarre features of the bardo may read as excess to some, but they work. Especially when put up against the incredibly somber delivery of the President’s story, told through excerpts of dozens of historical documents and primary accounts. Saunders pulls short passages and sentences from these various texts and combines them to make a parallel narrative to Willie’s posthumous journey. I never would have thought a method as ambitious as this could produce poignant and cohesive prose, but somehow it does! The historical-collage chapters read so effortlessly that, if I didn’t know any better, I would be convinced it was just Saunders executing his normal prose.

These chapters offer crucial details, such as impressions of Willie before he died, descriptions of the emotionally broken President visiting his son’s grave, hints of Mary Todd’s mental fracturing, political critiques of the President’s wartime moves, and grisly accounts of the carnage on the battlefield the day after battle. Even though these chapters have been arranged to create a new narrative, they still have an air of historical accuracy. And it’s this idea, the sense of this really happened, that grounds the wackiness of the bardo sections and makes the whole novel a deeply moving and utterly human affair.

To anyone looking for a novel written in vivid prose that doesn’t let up for one second, look no further. In Lincoln in the Bardo you’re sure to find a wildly original story told in a wildly original way that somehow, against all odds, seems faintly familiar at heart. It’s the most human novel about dead men with giant penises wandering a Tibetan purgatory you’ll ever read.


Author George SaundersAbout the Author: George Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas, but grew up in Chicago. He completed a degree in exploration geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines. He later completed his MFA from Syracuse, where he also met his future wife, Paula Redick. Saunders has had various works published in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.

Review of “Yearling” by Lo Kwa Mei-En

Yearling

Yearling is a collection of poetry which delves deep into a complex network of introspective philosophy. Lo Kwa Mei-En wades through incredible, abstract language that leaves the reader to interpret her ambiguous scenes. There are times when the reader feels as if they had been dropped into an unfamiliar jungle, left to fend for themselves. For example, in her poem “The Jubilee Year of the Dead Inside of a Banyan Tree”:

 

            The underworld is what you thought it’d be,

but not where. We who know not what we are,

tick the record of animal loss off our fingers.

We give names to the faces: badger, black canary,

Mei-En’s style is fragmented and difficult to follow, yet enticing in its abstraction. Her work is dense with allusions to referential stories and animal symbolism. There is a darkness lurking behind every line, a mystery that begs to be discovered, explored, dissected. Mei-En drops the reader off within an unknown point of view. Who is the “you” referring to? What are our expectations of the underworld and where does it reside? The reader begins asking questions immediately upon entering the first line. By the end of the first stanza, they’re stuck untangling the ambiguous identity of “we” and the purpose of the various animals invoked. But Mei-En does not allow for pause, the reader is whisked immediately into the next stanza. Later in the poem, Mei-En creates a metaphor for her reading audience:

            Oh phoenix. Come brighten. Wade

in the year of your acre and flood, a mere, lit fig

hung from your neck to lantern you back and forth

to a place where we will speak your name again.

Mei-En’s poems, like the banyan trees of her childhood, are “more stranger than strangler,” in that they approach recognizable issues on body image, immigration, and cultural symbolism. However, there are moments when the reader feels lost, like the traveler being led through a flooded field with nothing but a mere fig lantern to guide them.

That poem is but one example within a wonderful collection that begins with the foreshadowing lines “Temper, temper” and ends emphatically with the phrase: “How a wolf watching water is how I want / how I want to love the new apocalypse for good.” By the end of her book, the reader just believes that perhaps the best mindset is to embrace our inner animal and learn to love the pain of the coming apocalypse. Her poems are a mixture of self-deprecating and empowering. Fluctuating from images of imposed sexuality – “I thought myself ready, / restless in the register of hips and eyes” – to moments of empowering femininity – “The body that has something to say / knows better than that. / Lights everything on fire with one hand / and tends coals with the other.” There are moments depicting physical abuse where the narrator seems ambiguous as to her feelings about it. These poems are raw and they are real. They do not flake away from the messy edges of her experience, nor do they indulge in mainstream Liberal didacticism. If Lo Kwa Mei-En’s poetry could be compared to a breath of fresh air, it would be like the first step out into city pollution after spending all day within a padded, sterile room; the air is dirty. Paradoxically, in her misdirecting metaphors, she reveals herself completely.

Lo Kwa Mei-En’s Yearling shows that she is an incredibly innovative and aspiring talent. She displays a mastery of poetic conventions, causing any sense of narrative to be speculative at best. Her poems are fragmented and rely on parataxis between seemingly abstract images, allowing for ambiguity and multiple readings. However, while this ambiguity is one of her greatest strengths, it also proves to be one of her greatest weaknesses. Mei-En’s poetry, while incredible, is not accessible. Each poem requires contemplation in order to decipher meaning; Mei-En makes no attempt to cater to the reader. Because of this, Mei-En’s poetry remains barred from most audiences, but within this lies her true power. Mei-En does not shy away from her intellectualism. Rather, she fully retreats into her dense, introspective language and provides a portraiture of her unique experience. This is a book of highly philosophical, intellectual poetry which is aimed at likeminded readers. Mei-En’s poetry is difficult in subject-matter and pyrotechnic in form; or, as she would say in her own words: “I’ll keep it real, go / hurt something to love it, real, good, find the center / of aurora in me, the second of ignition.”


lo kwa mei enAbout the Author Lo Kwa Mei-en: This one is a poet from Singapore and Ohio. Her first book, Yearling, won the 2013 Kundiman Poetry Prize and is available from Alice James Books. The Bees Make Money in the Lion, a new book of poems, won the CSU Poetry Center Open Competition and is available from Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Other work includes Two Tales, a chapbook from Bloom Books, and The Romances, a chapbook forthcoming from The Lettered Streets Press.

Review of “There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé” by Morgan Parker

beyonce

Morgan Parker’s work, covering every topic from the first Black President to Beyoncé celebrating Black History Month, is dynamic, intriguing, and. It’s a testament to how dynamic poetry can be, and is.

The cover itself shows a woman sprawled on a couch with mascara rolling down her face. The image for me shows exactly what happens in the book: a person that is usually seen as a strong powerhouse, broken down and beaten, and shown in a new light.

For example, in the poem, “The President Has Never Said The Word Black,” Parker thoughtfully goes through why it hurts so much that the first African American President of the United States never called himself “Black,” or referred to his “brothers and sisters” as “Black”. It’s a powerful piece that really brings to attention what it feels like to be a Black American. It’s also a wonderful example of the pain that can be felt when you don’t get your way, another example of intriguing work.

Another poem that is just as powerful is the piece “Afro.” In it, Parker explains the tragic ups and downs that make up being African American, or Black, in what feels like a mash up of this and the past century. It’s a creative piece, calling on “Auntie Angela”, “Miss Holiday”, “Michael”, and “Dave Chappelle,” all major African American and Black figures of yesterday and today. It’s a powerful piece with a title that evokes thoughts of strife and majesty.

The next poem that really zeros in on what it feels like to be a Black person in today’s society, particularly a woman, is “13 Ways Of Looking At A Black Girl.” The poem is what seems to be a randomized list of terms, names and phrases that may come to mind when thinking of a Black woman. Parker throws out words and phrases like “dead”, “dying” “carefree” and “exotic”; phrases like “chickenhead” “at risk” “I am hungry,” which show the negative and the positive sides of how society looks at a Black girl. Parker then throws in names of women such as Nikki Giovanni, Sandra Bland,Whitney Houston, and Shonda Rhimes. Powerful names. Names of significance to the Black community, and society as a whole, again showing the ups and downs of what it is to be a Black woman.

The shortest poem in the book ,“Beyoncé Celebrates Black History Month,” is only five lines, two short sentences, that perfectly makes up what it means to hold on to what some people call being “Black”, a term that can be used in both negative and positive terms:

 

I had almost

forgotten my roots

are not long

blonde. I had almost forgotten

what it means to be at sea.

 

As a whole, Parker’s work in the book is thoughtful, kind yet brutally honest, and thought provoking. “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé” is a fantastic read for any and everyone. If you’re in the “Beyhive”, don’t be offended at all; it’s a great read about a wonderful person!


Morgan ParkerAbout the Author: Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House Books 2017) and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015), which was selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize and a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Parker received her Bachelors in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Columbia University and her MFA in Poetry from NYU. Her poetry and essays have been published and anthologized in numerous publications, including The Paris Review, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, Best American Poetry 2016The New York Times, and The Nation. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel in New York. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She is a Sagittarius, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Review of “South and West: From a Notebook” by Joan Didion

South and West

Joan Didion’s South and West: From a Notebook confounded me on so many levels. The piece began as a notebook the author kept when she spent a month in “the South” – as though it were a specific place instead of a region in 1970. As a twenty-one-year old who was born in 1995 and grown up in Chicagoland area, I might as well have been reading about someone’s trip to China for all I could relate to its 1970’s pop culture references and vanished cultural phenomena (apparently, people back then used to pump your gas for you).

Yet despite the blatant racism, horrible poverty and ridiculously cheap prices of the era, there was something about the book still that I found strangely intriguing. The foreword, written by Nathaniel Rich, implies that the book is supposed to lead readers to some sort of deeper understanding of present-day (2016) America. I can see it to a certain extent, as the actions and rhetoric of President Trump shares the same discriminatory, stubborn slant to it as many people Didion encounters over the course of her trip. I, however, couldn’t help but focus upon how much has changed since the work was first penned:

A tribute to coverage during Hurricane Camille… After that crisis ‘celebrities from all over the U.S. came down, Bob Hope, the Golddiggers, Bobby Goldsboro. Bob Hope coming down, that really made people see that the country cared.’ Mrs. McGrath from Jackson leaning close to tell me Jackson State was a setup. (Didion 39)

Passages like these date the notebook more than if you were to slap a “Made in 1970” label on the front cover. Part of me wonders how different the places she went would be today. There were a few things I recognized, such as the prevalence of the Confederate flag (although that, too is changing in many places).

Though the timeframe provides an unfamiliar setting, contributing more to the sense of confusion that pervades the work is its unabashedly fragmented quality. There is no real plot, no conflict, no definitive ending – it is as though it is one of those works that are released unfinished because the author is dead. The only uniting thread throughout this series of vignettes is that they look at the South and its people through Didion’s eyes.

I don’t know whether it is due to the fact she is from California or the fact that she is a woman in the 1970s, but throughout the piece, people are constantly trying to tell Didion how it is in the South. But Didion can see this for herself. What she finds is a region steeped in history and living in the past, largely resistant to the change that has been all but forced upon them, but are nevertheless slowly being dragged along by it. While I did not particularly enjoy the book due to its draft-like nature and unfamiliar allusions, I would offer a tentative recommendation to any interested in observing the tides of change, politics of race, and the intriguing conundrum of the human being.


Joan-DidionAbout the Author: Joan Didion is the author of five novels and nine books of nonfiction. Her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, was published by Everyman’s Library in 2006. Born in Sacramento, California, Didion now lives in New York City.