Review of Jeff Fearnside’s MAKING LOVE WHILE LEVITATING THREE FEET IN THE AIR

Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, and Other Stories of Flight
Jeff Fearnside. Stephen F. Austin State University Press, $18 paperback (175p) ISBN:  978-1-62288-103-1

Jeff Fearnside’s Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air, and Other Stories of Flight is full of protagonists busting out of oppressive predicaments. Kids rebel against their parents. Their liberation takes place outdoors and is short-lived but transformative: the little boy in “Nuclear Toughskins” cuts the legs off his new jeans; John, in “Every Living Thing That Moves” evades his father’s abuse and falls into a relationship with his pastor’s daughter; and Ryan, in “Maps & Compasses,” pursues a buck in the wilderness.
     More complex than their adolescent peers, Fearnside’s female protagonists break free of the fictions that have paralyzed their lives. Elly, in “She Was a Winter,” and George’s wife, in “A Story of My Very Own,” ruminate on their relationships with their mothers. Haunted by the Cathars, a twelfth-century heretical sect, Elly questions wake and burial rituals while George’s wife finally lets go of the marriage she left years ago. In contrast, Minnie in, “Making Love While Levitating Three Feet in the Air,” focuses on the bodily life; and schemes to satisfy her boyfriend while still retaining her financial independence.

Review of Dalton Day’s EXIT, PURSUED

EXIT, PURSUED
Dalton Day. Plays Inverse Press, $12.95 paperback (88p) ISBN: 9780991418350


Exit, Pursued
is a complex and ambitious collection of 41 one-act plays in verse, most of which centre around the ever-shifting perspectives of characters, Me and You. Dalton Day, with light-hearted whimsy and a contrasting burden of retrospect and sadness, uses Me and You as a means to deconstruct the very essence of personal identity.
     In the reading it's hard to decipher whether the author wrote these plays as performance pieces, or if the scripts are a conduit for poetic expression in and of themselves. After all, 16 of these nuggets of poetry contain no dialogue whatsoever. To further complicate the question of performance, the audience in one of the plays must systematically approach a dialogue engraved oak tree and read the next line out loud before returning to their seat. In fact, the audience is a character of almost equal load-bearing significance as the ubiquitous Me and You. And this is where it gets interesting. A little more is required of the reader here, a retraining if you will, a process of detaching oneself from a longstanding concept of what words like, me, you, us and them actually mean, to the point where the reader's own identity is deliberately taken apart by the author.
     Each of the collection's installments begins in humorous fashion, with lengthy, descriptive and increasingly absurd titles. The first play has almost as many words in its title as its dialogue does in total. It is this somewhat fanciful approach that adds a certain subtlety to Day's melancholy, and a depth of poignancy to the many segues into the larger questions which concern themselves with death, loneliness, an overriding uncertainty and an anxious desire for direction.

Interview with the author: Ben Hersey

Ben Hersey is a writer & performer who lives in Easthampton, Massachusetts. His book, The Autograph of Steve Industry, was published by Magic Helicopter Press. Recently I connected with Ben to learn about his book, the stage antics of his old band Viking Funeral, and what Massachusetts means to him.

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Mel Bosworth: You wrote a book!

Ben Hersey: Yup. Years in the making. Steamrollers was/is a real band. Been around since at least 2000, played about 30 shows, at most. We write all the songs (more or less) live and pretend that we're a shitty bar band in a shitty venue somewhere north of Boston. I got really excited by the weird shit that was coming out of our shows and started taking notes and arranging a series of possible stories around this character I played in the band. The character took off. Lots of live shows and years stewing in the gore of Mass culture and history.

MB: You good at pool?

BH: Not good at pool. In the mid 90's I spent so many nights in a grungy candle-pin bowling alley / pool hall in Malden that we all just called "Charles St." I'd stare at pool tables and the games people played and got to know the people playing and the jukebox music (Crimson and Clover, Hotel California) but I never played. Never felt the game speak to me. Pool was never as interesting to me as the people playing it and the situations going on in the cigarette smoke with the filth on the floor and the walls. I went there again and again. I loved it there for awhile.

Review of Farideh Razi’s Vis & I

Vis & I
Farideh Razi. Translated by Niloufar Talebi. L’Aleph, $11.15 paperback (112p) ISBN: 978-9176372449


Farideh Razi’s Vis & I takes place during the Iran-Iraq War. The plot of the novel is simple: At 2:20 a.m., Pardis makes a last ditch effort to intercept Ramin at the Tehran Airport before he flies out at 3:30. Riding in the back of the taxi, Pardis experiences a series of flashbacks as fire-flowers blossom on the night sky. Aware of “the driver’s crusty eyes” watching her “incredulously from … the mirror,” Pardis realizes that she is “talking out loud.” She is falling apart, with former crises erupting into the present, each flashback flaring and illuminating some aspect of her past.      
     Most of Pardis’ flashbacks depict the lived experience of the Iranian middle class during the 1980’s. References are made to the minutiae of war: the power goes out several times a day, gas and car parts are rationed, and a woman searches the rubble for her son. At this point, the novel could be set during any modern war. Read further and the field narrows. Pardis, the main character, pines for the days when they sunbathed, the days when she taught, when her lover composed and their friend, Ahmad, wrote. Glimmerings of Khomeini’s Iran, with its persecution of its intellectuals and oppression of women, begin to surface. She remembers visiting their friend Ahmad, on whose head “they” had “trickled monotonous drops of water, drop by drop.” He was, she noted, “without spark, or words.” Venturing outside to enjoy the night sounds, she and Ramin are set upon by security guards and “are caught among brutal hands and arms taking their turns.” The driver drives. Bombs fall.  Pardis, whether she knows it or not, is “without spark, or words.”

Review of Ben Hersey’s THE AUTOGRAPH OF STEVE INDUSTRY

The Autograph of Steve Industry
Ben Hersey. Magic Helicopter Press, $16 paperback (303p) ISBN: 978-0-9964143-2-6

“...love is hot rain, you get caught in it, you get scorched, period.” So says the narrator Steve Industry in Hersey’s outstanding debut about an eastern Massachusetts man struggling day to day to keep himself and his relationships from shattering into a million pieces. Told in four seasons beginning with summer, the book is a prose explosion of personal vision and human connection. Steve lives his life with a frantic poetry, juggling work (batting cage manager and bus driver) and play (vocalist and harmonica player in the band the Steamrollers) and family (wife Saundra and five-year-old daughter Nancy). Things begin to unravel for Steve when Saundra grows weary of his particular brand of affection (“...my wife is always trying to get me to love her a little less psychedelically…”) and she begins to challenge his life choices. Torn between his responsibilities as a family man, his deep loyalty to his friends and bandmates, and his sense of self and place, Steve drinks, snorts, and howls his way through, sometimes gleaning his finest insights via the precocious wisdom of his daughter. After kindly reprimanding her one day for using a curse word, things play out thusly: “She said, ‘But, Daddy, I’m a grown woman.’ I looked at her and it was fucked up because I realized in that moment that I was looking to see if she was correct. Yesterday was twenty minutes ago or twenty years ago, what do I know?” The real joy of the work is the way the hyper-kinetic prose gushes with emotion and heart, but never in an overwhelmingly sentimental way. Hersey’s innovative analysis/poetic breakdown of the life experience is a pure pleasure to behold. (December 2016)

Purchase The Autograph of Steve Industry HERE.

Read an interview with Ben Hersey HERE

Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight. Visit him at melbosworth.com

Review of Michelle Dove’s RADIO CACOPHONY

RADIO CACOPHONY
Michelle Dove. Big Lucks Books, $10 paperback (132p) ISBN: 9781941985069


In Dove’s excellent debut, the term “Radio Cacophony” refers to the sonic experiment of playing multiple tracks over each other. The objective is to glean something familiar or beautiful from the often jarring noise. There’s nothing displeasing to the ear or heart in this novel-in-vignettes about a communications major who works for the college’s radio station. Dove’s first person narrator possesses an amicable, easy to read voice and a laid back, frequently wise wit. She supersaturates herself with music from The Smiths, crushes hard on the Day Art deejay, drinks lots of vodka, and fumbles and bounces on an intricate web of youth as she finds her way. As a humorous recounting of boozy exploration set to an amazing soundtrack, the book is an easy success. But what really gives it great lift and cutting depth is the narrator’s ability to ruminate on her motivations and choices. Finding herself alone one day at the station, she purposely allows the airwaves to fall silent between tracks and the anxiety of this dead air rushes in: “It’s in this moment before I finally play the song that is cued up to play that I feel what it feels to be utterly pointless. Yet immediately after the moment of pointlessness comes exhilaration, as I know now that the most vulnerable I have ever been has passed—and still I am me.” Dove gives readers the familiar and beautiful while maintaining a perfect balance of humor and sadness. (September 2016)

Purchase Radio Cacophony HERE.

Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight. Visit him at melbosworth.com

Review of Thomas McColl’s BEING WITH ME WILL HELP YOU LEARN

Being With Me Will Help You Learn
Thomas McColl. Listen Softly London, $14 (78p) ISBN: 978-0993535307

            In his book of poems Being With Me Will Help You Learn, Thomas McColl plunges head first into a strange world that seems so much like our own yet entirely nuanced. The title itself is slightly foreboding, as if what we, as readers, are about the read will change us in some profound way, some way that will fundamentally change the way we perceive and react to things in our lives. McColl uses cunning and smart language to create these quasi-worlds that mirror our own. He does this, all the while lacing his poems with dark humor. It’s a kind of make-believe that isn’t quite made up.
            Many of McColl’s poems read satirical. Among these poems is “A Warning to All EC Pedestrians” where a simple practice of walking across the street turns into a humorous yet sinister act. McColl uses this sense of parallelism to change the dynamic between cars and pedestrians. He writes,

Pedestrians planning to cross the road
must have, as standard,
an air bag beneath their clothes
which will blow up on impact.