Month: June 2012

Oregon Hill

In Oregon Hill, Howard Owen pulls double-duty by crafting a compelling page-turner and offering commentary on the dying art of investigative journalism. His protagonist is an aging reporter named Willie Black who’s recently been assigned to cover the night cops’ beat — a demotion that places him squarely at the center of a murder investigation even as his career teeters on the brink of oblivion. Shortly after a missing co-ed turns up decapitated in the South Anna River, Willie is as relieved as anyone in Oregon Hill when the apparent murderer is apprehended. Haunted by a miscarriage of justice he witnessed in his younger days, however, Willie can’t leave well enough alone, and his investigation leads him into increasingly dangerous territory. Meanwhile, his best friend is under investigation for robbery, his mother’s lover is drifting deep into senility, and his latest ex-wife is hounding him for the rent. In short, Willie has struck the perfect work-life balance insofar as his work and his life are equally thorny. Indeed, that Willie has so much to juggle speaks volumes for the author’s prowess as a storyteller: Owen never misses a beat or leaves a narrative thread untended for too long.

While the narrative is certainly compelling, what gives Oregon Hill a degree of heft is its commentary on the fate of print journalism in the digital age. To an extent, the novel decries the sad state of affairs created by the dwindling readership for traditional newspapers. At the same time, however, Owen is careful not to indulge in too much hand-wringing, as his protagonist is quick to recognize the value of so-called “new media” even if he’s somewhat reluctant to embrace it. In this sense, Oregon Hill looks forward as much as it looks back, and offers a fairly complex look at our culture’s current relationship with journalism.

Reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen’s Basket Case, Oregon Hill is as smart as it is thrilling, a true literary page-turner.

Originally posted on Stephen Page:

womenUpOnBlocksBy Mary Akers.

Press 53, 150 pages. $14.00
The female protagonists in Mary Akers’s collection of short stories, Women Up On Blocks, live maledominated lives. They feel trapped, yet are in the situations they are in because of decisions that they made during certain periods of their lives.
The first story, Medusa Song, begins as a story of child neglect:

She scrambles the eggs while the baby howls at her knees. To drown out the racket, she hums and jabs the fork into the yolks… then does a quick sidestep when the baby lunges for her knees.
His little fat hands grasp the air, throwing him off balance. He totters on his heels for a moment then sits hard and rolls back sideways, bumping his head on the floor. He stops crying abruptly and flails his arms in the air like a bug stuck on its back.

The neglect continues:…

View original 1,236 more words

The Brightest Thing in the World: 3 Lectures from The Institute of Failure

1) Pick it up. Put it down. Cross out the parts you don’t like. I kind of think that’s what the author wants you to do. His name is Matthew Goulish, and his main argument in this series of lectures is that rupture, transgression, and failure lead to innovation. In the author’s words, “To understand a system, study its failure.”

2) My own failures with respect to this book revolve around two axes. The first is my ignorance of some of the figures Goulish mentions throughout the text. Martin Heidegger, for example. I fancy myself a well-read individual, but I couldn’t name anything by Heidegger. So when I read about him, even oblique references to the man, I feel like I’ve missed out on something. Could I rectify the situation? Yes. Do I? No. The same could be said for my second failing: my inability to grasp even the most basic mathematical concepts. This failure impeded my understanding of a brief lecture titled “The Butterfly Catastrophe.”  Together these failures, according to the logic of this book, give me a unique perspective on Goulish’s argument. More accurately, I suppose, the unique dimension of my failures gives me a unique perspective on this point. It probably also says something about me an my character. I’m a kind of creature who’d like to think of myself as learned but who won’t take steps to address the gaps in my learning.

3) In addition to studying failure, Goulish also attempts to examine the meaning of a life. There’s a distinction to made her between the meaning of life and the meaning of a life. As in one life. As in someone’s life. As in What is the meaning of your life or my life or Goulish’s life. To investigate this problem, he looks at an early twentieth-century naturalist named W.N.P. Barbellion, among whose works is an essay titled “Curious Facts in the Geographical Distribution of British Newts.” It sounds funny, like a Monty Python sketch. And maybe Goulish’s lip was curling into a subtle smile as he gave this lecture. Maybe. Probably. I’m guessing it was. There’s something funny about all of this.

4) “Funny” in the academic sense of the word. Dry humor. Academic humor. I probably missed half of the jokes, and that’s being generous to myself. I wouldn’t be surprised if knowing more about Heidegger would have made this book a scream. I’d have laughed out loud, wiping tears from my eyes as I turned each page. Heidegger was a Nazi sympathizer, by the way. I only know this because Goulish mentions it.

5) The closest comparison I can make is to the writing of Jean Baudrillard or Jacques Derrida. Dropping these names is as much a ploy to make up for not knowing anything about Heidegger as it is to give you a sense of what this book is like. What I mean to say is the he writes like a philosopher. A French philosopher.

6) The Institute of Failure is real.

7) For the most part, I really enjoyed this book.

Marc Schuster:

Great review of a compelling mystery!

Originally posted on ENTERTAINMENT REALM:

Death in a Wine Dark Sea by Lisa King. Publisher: The Permanent Press (June 22, 2012). Mystery/suspense. Hardcover. 352 pages. ISBN 978-1-57962-282-4.

After her best friend’s much older and rather shady husband, millionaire Martin Wingo, goes missing [and shortly turns up dead] aboard a yacht immediately following the wedding, wine columnist Jean Ahlquist becomes engulfed in the mystery despite her dislike for the groom. She’s doing it for her friend and to satiate her own curiosity. She didn’t particularly care for the arrogant Wingo and his less than legitimate business dealings. The opinionated, independent Jean joins up with Wingo’s former techie, the very young and super geeky Zeppo. The two are a strange pair but it works. As they connect the pieces, their own lives become imperiled.

The best aspect of Death in a Wine Dark Sea is that Jean is strong and unconventional. She’s Mad Men’s Peggy in…

View original 176 more words

Originally posted on Abominations:

Big thanks to Dan Cafaro of Atticus Books for an inventive interview with two of the most colorful characters from The Grievers, Charley  Schwartz and Greg Packer! I’m a huge fan of the titles that Atticus has produced, especially The Snow Whale, The Great Lenore, and Fight for Your Long Day. I was also blown away by their latest title, Kino by Jurgen Fauth, so it was especially flattering when Dan offered to interview me on his press’s book blog. Needless to say, I’m also struck by his generosity and the generosity of the small press scene in general. After all, how many big publishers offer to help with promoting titles by “the competition”? Then again, it isn’t competition when good people like Dan remind us that we’re all in it together–writing, reading, making art, and changing the world a little bit at a time!

View original

Small Press Roundup – June 2012

The books keep piling up! I wish I could give all of them the time and attention they deserve. In the meantime, here’s a rundown of some recent small press titles:

Kergan Edwards-Stout’s Songs for the New Depression follows the adventures of Gabriel Travers, a young man battling AIDS. Despite his doctor’s proclamations to the contrary and rumors of a promising new HIV drug cocktail, Gabriel is convinced he doesn’t have long to live.  With the clock ticking, Gabe begins to finally peel back the layers and tackle his demons — with a little help from the music of the Divine Miss M (Bette Midler) and his mom’s new wife, a country music-loving priest. The Advocate writes that “Kergan Edwards-Stout has crafted a work of fiction reminiscent of some classic tales in Songs for the New Depression.  Even better, Edwards-Stout’s debut boasts the kind of dark humor that made Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors, Dry) a household name.”

Kelly Easton’s Time in the Sleeping Sky is a novel about the mysteries of time. Ben Hawkins has sped through time only to find that he can’t remember his life. His daughter “ticks in reverse,” allowing the past to control her present. A bear named Gertrude, a Persian shopkeeper, an unsolved murder, a farm in Japan, and the star-struck landscape of Los Angeles weave through the trajectory of one family’s journey through time. Publishers Weekly writes, “Easton ably establishes a complex, highly charged atmosphere and mediates with sympathy and intelligence.”

Steve Caplan’s Welcom Home, Sir touches on issues ranging from hypochondria to PTSD. On the surface, Dr. Ethan Meyer is the picture of success. A biochemistry professor, he runs his lab with efficiency and care, projects an air of confidence, and is respected by his peers. Inside, however, he’s coming apart at the seams. While fighting his personal demons and struggling to keep his family together, Ethan must also navigate a series of crises at work. Welcome Home, Sir is Caplan’s second novel.

Diana Salier’s Letters from Robots is a quirky collection of poetry about post-millennial pre-apocalyptic neuroses. Zombies, sandwiches, movie monsters, and Kurt Cobain all make appearances, as does Salier’s lamentation that she should have been an astronaut. Kevin Sampsell, author of A Common Pornography, writes of Letters, “Robots don’t have emotions, but these poems do. Salier is able to bring to life the sad, cold moments of loneliness and turn them into weird, apocalyptic, and sometimes funny scenes.”

Marc Schuster:

Thanks to Monica D’Antonio for this interview…

Originally posted on X Rated:

Today, I had the pleasure of two firsts: conducting my first interview and conducting my first interview with author Marc Schuster. Schuster’s second novel The Grievers is gearing up for release on May 1, and he graciously sat down with me over our respective computers (who does this stuff face-to-face anymore?) and answered questions about writing, the state of education in America, and, most importantly, about what it’s like to be friends with me. Here’s how it went:

The Grievers is your second novel, following pretty closely on the heels of The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl. What was the experience like this time around?

I actually wrote several drafts of The Grievers before I wrote Wonder Mom. About three drafts in, I felt like I had to switch gears a bit, and that’s when Wonder Mom started coming together. It wasn’t until later that I…

View original 1,564 more words