On Writing by Stephen King is a book that’s part memoir and part a discussion on the craft of fiction. King goes about describing how he came to be a writer, what he thinks exists in good writing, and how became a better writer. I enjoyed his matter-of-fact tone and the way he approaches his craft. I specifically connected with the idea that the story is a fossil the writer excavates. And while I didn’t read this book before I wrote my piece in CRAFT, my author’s note rings eerily like his, “Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world.” I like this idea, and it’s reaffirming to know he treats his stories the same. I also enjoyed the glimpses into his life where I saw parallels to my own writing journey.
Though, as with any writing advice, I’d be hesitant to take everything he says as the ultimate truth. I agree story is the most important part of fiction and character’s actions/situations drive the narrative. I also agree one most read a lot and write a lot to become better. However, I’m a little more hesitant to take his advice on writing a thousand words every day or the specifics of his craft. To me, it seems much of his advice is prescriptive, and without it, one isn’t being a proper writer. His authoritative voice is convincing but doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m also not sure of his idea that competent writers can only become good writers, or you can’t become a great writer if you’re a good writer. To someone just starting the craft, this seems demoralizing and assumes people can’t fundamentally change. Overall, I’ll be taking a few nuggets of wisdom from King, but I’ll be leaving everything else.
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
Halfway from Home by Sarah Fawn Montgomery is a collection of essays about daughterhood, familial troubles, the pandemic, home, and her father. All of which are framed and analyzed under a nature and climate conscious lens. Montgomery uses language which draws in and imbues memory into every fiber of the collection. There is an expert use of braided essays, in essays such as ‘Forest for the Trees’ and ‘Taking Stock’.
The first essay, ‘Excavation’, acts a strong primer in digging up memories and moments by Montgomery, in which as a child she digs up treasure after treasure hidden in her family’s back yard. Only later is she told that the treasures were placed there by her father and not natural finds. In this way, Montgomery sometimes questions her experiences as they don’t match up with her father’s. ‘Excavation’ is also sectioned off using dig sites as places to begin her memories.
The essays discuss her tenuous and loving relationship she has with her father, which is the heart of the essays. She contemplates what it means to be home, to desire for it, and to know it won’t exist forever.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
The Kenyon Review July/Aug 2022 is a collection of poetry, non-fiction, and short stories, with a folio focusing on mothers reflecting on the climate crisis. There is anger and grief in the issue, which bleeds through its non-fiction, particularly in ‘To Live Again’ by Aliyeh Ateaei translated by Salar Abdoh. The story is about a mother trying to teach her son about her home in Afghanistan and why they had to flee to Iran. I absolutely loved the way the language held so much weight and how she treats her son with tenderness. And one of its final lines aches with meaning as her son says, ‘”Next time I’ll try to be born as oil”’. I was also a fan of the short story ‘Still Life with Lobster’ by Timothy Reynolds with its sharp use of imagery. Overall, I enjoyed the pressing discussions of climate change, but couldn’t quite connect with the poetry.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Bestiary by K-Ming Chang is about a girl who grows a tiger tail, and has magical things occur in and around her: rabbits birthing from her Agong, a girl she likes with a caged bird shadow, an aunt with snakes in her stomach, her brother flying like a kite, and holes that spit up letters from her ama. The voice, imagery, and metaphor are powerful and distinct. The poeticism of the novel works so well in creating a language of the family, their shared legends, and their relationships. There are exquisite lines in the novel, such as, “In wartime, land is measure by the bones it can bury.”
It is an expertly, and a heartbreakingly raw story about a daughter in understanding herself, her queerness, her family, and where she fits in it all. Themes of water (oceans, rivers, blood) act as causeways and tributaries into larger ideas, threading and relating each moment. The writing, while its own distinct being, is reminiscent of Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous in how language is mulled over with meaning imbued into every seam of every sentence. There are striking and powerful moments with Old Guang and Ah Zheng as pirates, and her brother on the ledge of a building about to jump off. I was thoroughly impressed with Chang’s mastery of language and hope to read her other stuff in the future.
Final Rating: 5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.