Month: April 2011

Shelf Unbound – Now Free!

I’ve been a big fan of Shelf Unbound magazine since its inception last year. Publisher Margaret Brown and her team of literature and pop-culture enthusiasts do a wonderful job of bringing their readers, among other things, the latest news from the indie scene. Fans of Small Press Reviews will especially enjoy their coverage of new books from small and independent presses. And the best thing of all is that the magazine is now available for free! The latest issue focuses on music writing and also includes an interview with author Edwidge Danticat. Enjoy!

Black Swan

After taking a brief break from his Sam Acquillo Hamptons mystery series with last summer’s glorious paean to the Jersey shore, Elysiana, Chris Knopf returns to form with a whodunit as smart and insightful as it is gripping and intriguing.

Black Swan opens with a bang as Acquillo battles gale-force winds and rough seas to pilot a friend’s sailboat safely to harbor. Yet no sooner does the reluctant amateur detective dock in the exclusive resort town of Fishers Island, New York, than he finds himself entangled in a murder plot of epic proportions. The victim, it turns out, was a partner in a major tech firm poised to reap billions from the launch of the latest version of its trademark software. The only problem is that the product is riddled with bugs — and the only programmers who can fix the problem are prime suspects in the case.

Adding to the pressure are the facts that Fishers Island has all but closed down for the coming winter, the remaining denizens would like nothing more than for Acquillo to disappear, and an autistic programming prodigy has gone missing, taking with him the only real clues in the case. To top it all off, a massive hurricane is about to slam the island, thus ratcheting up the urgency of Acquillo’s investigation. That the man spends much of the novel sucking down vodka and longing for a cigarette is, to say the least, understandable.

As with all of the titles in the Sam Acquillo series, Knopf maintains tight pacing throughout Black Swan while simultaneously combining the best elements of noir and gothic mystery fiction. Many reviewers have noted an affinity between Acquillo and such iconic detectives as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Robert Parker’s Spenser. Moreover, by isolating Acquillo and company on Fishers Island, Knopf also evokes the claustrophobic tension of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians. What really sets this novel apart, however, is its smart yet subtle commentary on our growing dependence upon technology and the ways in which it is changing the nature of humanity. Though Acquillo deftly brings his murder investigation to a satisfying end, the larger question that haunts the novel still remains: Have we, at long last, been reduced to slaves of technological progress, or do we still have control over the machinations we’ve set loose upon our world?

With Acquillo in our corner, there’s always hope.

Track This: A Book of Relationship

Track This: A Book of Relationship by Stephen Bett is an emotionally generous collection of stylistically spare poetry reminiscent of the work of Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings. As the title of the book suggests, the poetry collected therein tracks the evolution of a single relationship, but it does so in ways that will likely challenge the casual reader to rethink conventional notions of language.

(Parenthetical statements, for example, tend to open without closing. A commentary on the nature of relationships, perhaps? On the contingency of the ties that bind? We enter into these deals with other human beings without knowing how or when or whether they will end. We hope, for the most part, that they will go on forever, but…

(Ah, yes, he uses ellipses, on occasion, too. And, to be sure, some of his parenthetical expressions both open and close.)

All of this is to say that by toying with the conventions of language, Bett draws attention to the ways in which language and relationships are given to the same types of uncertainty. More to the point, his poetry suggests that just as the uncertainty of language — the inability of words to capture the ineffable, the sublime, the exact essence of a moment or feeling or heartbeat — does not stop us from attempting to communicate, the unlikeliness of ever connecting one’s soul to that of another will not stop us from trying. We love because we want to connect, the poems in this volume suggest, and it’s in the attempt, in the grappling we do in the dark among the interstices of communication and amidst the firing of neurons, that we find the agony and ecstasy of all that makes life worth living.