Oct 30, 2013

Corey Pentoney Reviews Jacob M. Appel's The Biology of Luck

The Way We Get By

The Biology of Luck
Jacob M. Appel
Elephant Rocks Books, 2013

ISBN: 9780975374689 

            The Biology of Luck is an adventurous novel not only in its subject matter, but in what it attempts to do with form.  It is the story of Larry Bloom, a writer and NYC tour guide, who is profoundly in love.  So in love, in fact, that he dedicates two years of his life to writing a novel about the subject of his affection, Starshine Hart, and it is through Bloom’s novel—whose chapters alternate with Appel’s—that we get to know Starshine.  Appel and Bloom proceed to take us through the day in each character's life that will lead to them having dinner that evening.
            For me, the best parts of the novel, and what kept me reading, were the encounters with the secondary characters that fill the spaces in between the main narrative.  Appel has a way of concocting characters that are so ridiculous that they are almost unbelievable.  Yet I found myself drawn to them far more than our leading couple.  The Armenian flower peddler, for instance—the character from whom the novel derives its title—is dynamic and intriguing, and I would love to hear more of his story and his theory on the genetics of luck.  Same goes for Ziggy Borasch and his insatiable quest to write the perfect American sentence; Eucalyptus, Starshine’s roommate, and her scrimshaw; Bone and his uncanny knowledge; and Jack Bascomb with his dark and possibly violent past with the Weather Underground Organization.  These were the characters that drew my attention and kept me reading from page to page.
            It is the novel’s conceit, the form that it takes, where I believe Biology is unsuccessful.  For all of the things that it has going for it—energetic and often beautiful prose, a quick wit, and quirky characters—I kept wondering how the format served the story and the characters.  The reader only gets to know Larry Bloom in the reality of the novel, as we only learn about Starshine through Larry's eyes and text.  Because these are the only interactions we get with her—which obviously come from an obsessive and fawning fan, and are mostly the regurgitated and dramatized accounts of her life that she has divulged to him theoretically in confidence—our protagonist comes off more creepy than endearing, and far more of a stalker than a harmless lover boy.  The format also does the ending a disservice, as the final scene—the long-awaited date with Starshine—is told by Larry in his novel, keeping us distant from the truth and from any sense of certainty about the fates of the characters we have followed thus far.
            Overall, even though this book was not for me, I applaud Mr. Appel for his courage in creating a new format, a new kind of novel, if you will, even if it does fall short.  Even Larry Bloom recognizes the difficulties of the author when he says, “It amazes him that life never offers completely smooth sailing, not even for one day, that just when the morning seems as flawless as the mountain sky, a sinister cloud manages to creep its way over the horizon.”  But through everything that Larry experiences, he manages to hold on to an almost indomitable hope that leaves you with a sense that, strangely enough, everything will turn out all right.

Oct 17, 2013

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's The Silence in an Empty House

Our beloved faculty leader Maria Mazziotti Gillan has released a new book of poetry! We are so thankful for her guidance.

NYQ Books has released The Silence in an Empty House, the most recent book of poetry by Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

“In The Silence in an Empty House, Maria Mazziotti Gillan chronicles a long marriage—love triumphing class, geographical moves, fondue parties, orange shag carpets and ultimately wheelchairs, nurse’s aides, and cold compresses. This is a book of easy and gentle humor regarding the first sparks of true love and the hard truths about what it is truly like to be a caregiver at the end of a spouse’s life, what it is like for a spouse to feel like “a burden,” and, finally, what it feels like to be a widow. Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s speaker includes not just personal and familial suffering but the suffering of the planet, its people and wildlife. This is a voice that is graceful and purposeful, elegant and humane.” —Denise Duhamel

“These are poems many people will relate to, perhaps, because Maria Gillan is amazingly honest about her reactions to the long trauma of her beloved husband disappearing into Parkinson’s disease, perhaps, because this is the sort of anguish many of us in tight partnerships most fear. Gillan takes us on a journey from young love and marriage through the long slow decline of her husband, through his death, and slowly out the other side into survivor’s guilt and, finally, the acceptance of her continued life and vitality.” —Marge Piercy

For more information, please visit the publisher’s website at: http://www.nyqbooks.org/title/thesilenceinanemptyhouse

The book is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s and Small Press Distribution.

Oct 15, 2013

Natalie Sypolt Reviews Mary Akers' Bones of an Inland Sea

Bones of an Inland Sea
Mary Akers
Press 53, 2013

ISBN 978-1-935708-89-6

Water. It moves us, sustains us, entertains and inspires us.  Water can also be deadly, unforgiving, and relentless.  Like separate islands all on the same tumultuous seas, the stories in Bones of an Inland Sea, the second collection by Mary Akers, are both connected and divided by water.

Once there was water where now there is none; there are only fossils left as odd, out of place reminders.  In the title story of this collection, grad student Alicia and her professor, Quinn Baxter, search for these fossils and hope to find something new and lasting, both in their careers and in their relationship.  It was the human remnants—Quinn’s daughter’s baby teeth that he kept in his office—that most bothered Alicia throughout their affair, the “archaeological remains solid and real, little pieces of castoff bone.” Eventually, the affair ends, and even love became something of a fossil, buried deep under layers of years.  Decades later, Alicia happens upon Quinn’s obituary in a back issue of Paleontology Today, and is confronted with the natural progression of her own life. Akers writes, “It’s as if Quinn’s dying has somehow shortened what’s left of her life…A man she had loved, had allowed into her body, a man she had craved was now a man no more.”

With striking accuracy, Akers explores the complexities of both romantic and familial relationships and, because these stories are linked not only by water, but by family, we are able watch generation after generation face similar obstacles, and deal with them in unfortunately similar ways.  In many ways, the reader becomes an invisible part of the story, as he or she knows the scars and traumas that started in one link of the chain, but that only manifested later, displayed in a strained and dysfunctional relationship.  For instance, in “Who Owns the Moon?” we see Lesley Baxter preparing her ailing mother for her new life in a nursing home, fully believing that her mother had always been a cold, dimensionless figure.  The reader, though, knows that Andrea’s life was complicated.  She was, for years, in a difficult marriage with the unfaithful Quinn, who eventually dies after a long battle with cancer. We also learn in the story “Beyond the Strandline”, that Andrea is sympathetic, when she meets and has a brief, passionate encounter with Walt, who is also dealing with the slow death of a spouse.  Only the reader gets full picture, and is privileged to see a mother in a way that a daughter never can.

 While each of these stories is perfectly contained, and some are more intricately connected to the overall story than others, each is necessary to form a unique yet wholly realistic universe. The first story in the collection “House of Refuge” is also the first chronologically, taking place in the late 1800s. A shipwreck separates the captain, and his wife, Madeleine, who may or may not be visited nightly by her drowned husband’s ghost.  This story might seem initially disconnected from the others, by time and by family line, until in “Treasures Few Have Seen”, we learn that Jack was once a treasure hunter who kept only a pocket watch, engraved in Spanish.  Again, only the reader knows that the watch belonged to Alonso, Madeleine’s husband who drowned in 1886.  It’s these small moments of recognition—an intricate thread carefully woven throughout—that makes Bones of an Inland Sea an exciting and satisfying read.

This collection flows.  The reader is swiftly moved from story to story, from character to character, always reminded of the unavoidable nature of water, and of life. There are natural ebbs, natural rises.  There is death, as in the first story of the collection, and there is new life.  In the final story “Waste Island”, Akers takes us into an unpleasant future, one in which humanity has not protected the environment and allowed the oceans to become clogged with refuse.  Melody (Lesley’s daughter) takes her own girls Raissa (later renamed River) and Rosalie to live on an island made of trash.  Brinn Ripley, the charismatic cult leader called Father, has developed a way for his people to live independently of the mainland, using only the garbage collected from the ocean for fuel.  When their way of life is threatened, Father convinces his followers to take their own lives.  It is only River and her newborn son, Peak, who survive.  The world around them has literally turned to garbage, and yet, there is hope. River says, “Rivers can divide.  I learned that recently.  When they do, each part is called a branch.” When speaking of her son’s life in the new world of their creating, she says, “When the time comes, I will tell him whatever story he needs to hear.”

The fragmented structure of this collection perfectly illustrates the way people move into and out of one another’s life, while also always being connected in both personal ways (like family ties) and larger, global and ecological ways. Bones of an Inland Sea is a smart and insightful book; these are the stories that we need to hear.

Oct 9, 2013

Fiction Winner John Vurro

Here's an excerpt from John Vurro's piece, winner of our John Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction Contest! It appears in our beautiful new 13.1 issue.

John lives in New Jersey with his wife and family. Some of his other work has been published in Evening Street Review and is upcoming in Our Stories.

Excerpt from "Carmine's War"

Want to submit to our current contests? Calls for our Poetry and Creative Nonfiction Contests can be found HERE for a $500 award and placement in issue 13.2.

Oct 7, 2013

Cover Artist Andrew Alexander

We are excited to publish the cover art of Andrew Alexander in our newest issue 13.1. In finding cover art for 13.1, we struggled to find an image that would reflect our Country Living Themed Issue. Andrew’s photograph depicts the nature beauty of the country, and our editors fell in love with it. We're sure you will, too.

Andrew was born on September 11, 1973 in Columbus, IN. He is a photographer from the Southside of Indianapolis. Growing up in the town of Edinburgh, Indiana, small town life gave him an appreciation for the simple things where time seemed to move a little slower. Nearby military base Camp Atterbury and accompanying Johnson County Park provided many escapes to where he ultimately fell in love with nature. As a teenager, he discovered photography which helped to steer him away from the destructive & rebellious path he was heading down. 

The viewfinder of his Pentax K1000 35mm camera drew him in to things he had never noticed before. Andrew’s unique style of photography was developed by discovering this “other world” of details by shooting from out-of-the-ordinary perspectives. He uses mostly natural lighting and often enjoys capturing the abandoned. He tends to let his camera tell a story from remnants left behind, where once an entire family or workforce thrived, or where cities and life once prospered but is now gone. The strangely beautiful patterns and shapes that naturally occur is what attracts his eye. Rust or patina on old metal. The swirls of moss. Peeling, chipping paint. The familiar lines and curves of an old vintage car or truck. Unique statues standing guard over weathered headstones. Driving the winding back roads, he is drawn to worn-down barns, windmills, and farms to capture their likeness before they vanish making way for modern progress. 

Issue 13.1 cover art from Andrew Alexander

While Andrew shoots many scenes in nature, he also sees the enticement of people “left behind” as well. The lonely homeless person who seems lost in the buzz of the city. Andrew uses his God given talent to freeze moments in time that move him, so that others can enjoy their beauty as well. 

He is mostly self-taught in photography but was and still is inspired by the landscapes of Ansel Adams, Peter Lik, Clyde Butcher & local Indiana photographer Darryl D. Jones. Other influences include portraits by Annie Liebovitz, Yousuf Karsh and also war journalism by Endre Friedman aka "Robert Capa" among many others. To him, it's really pretty simple. Life is beautiful. Andrew lives with his wife, Joy, and their two children, Casper and Sierra in Greenwood, IN.

Andrew's other work can be seen here, here, and here. Check him out!

You can contact Andrew at otbp.photo@yahoo.com (or) 317-439-6081.

Oct 2, 2013

Contributor Highlight: Christopher Linforth

Christopher Linforth, whose fiction appears in the newest issue of Harpur Palate, has had several short stories published. His story, "The Cowboys of Fukushima," was published in the summer 2013 issue of Swarm, and "A Sky Green and Fields Blue" is in Hawai'i Pacific Review. We'd like to congratulate him on his recent success!

Contributor Highlight: Elizabeth McDermott

We're happy to announce that Elizabeth McDermott, poetry contributor to Harpur Palate's 13.1 issue, has recently published two poems. "The Surveyor's Perspective," appears in DIAGRAM, and "Give and Take," in The Literary Bohemian. Her review of The Life and Death of Poetry, Kelly Cherry's latest collection of poems, is in the current issue of American Book Review.