The Resurrection Appearances: Fragments of a Daybook by Jay Aquinas Thompson is a nonfiction chapbook detailing the days, weeks, and months after the death of their mother. It recounts the moment they encountered her body, her life, as well as ruminations on Christianity. I particularly liked the lines, “When people asked me how grief felt, I’d say it didn’t feel like anything, it wasn’t a feeling; it was a metabolism.” and, “God is a fire victim on bedrest: from each burn point an angel is born;” It’s a deeply moving chapbook on how Thomson views their mother’s death, how their child, Finn, deals with these emotions, and what it all means within the context of religion. Thomson finishes off by writing, “There’s no and then I realized…moment in grief…”
Final Rating: 5/5
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote is a non-fiction novel about the Kansas murders of the Clutter family in 1959. It follows the lives of the Clutter family leading up to their deaths, as well as describing the murders, Perry and Hickock, as they decide to rob and kill the family. Both Perry and Hickock had been in and out of trouble with the law, and in one such case heard about Mr. Clutter who owned a farm and had a safe with at least ten thousand dollars in it. With that, Hickock concocts a plan to drive to their house once they’re out of prison, rob and kill the family, and disappear. Perry has an idea of them going to Mexico to discover gold after the murders, which they decide is their next course of action. Both Perry and Hickock are described as having tolerated each other, in part because they believed they’d get a big payout. However, once they get to the house, and tie the family up, they can’t find the safe. They collect forty dollars from Mr. Clutter’s wallet, and while Mr. Clutter is tied up, Perry has a momentary psychotic episode and slits Mr. Clutter’s throat. Then, knowing there can’t be any witnesses, he shoots the rest of the family. Then, they escape from the house, begin to cash fraudulent checks, steal from stores and pawn those items off, and finally make their way to Mexico. However, due to Hickock’s spending, they find they have lost all their money, so they decide to return to the US. All the while, the detective on the case, Dewey, searches for clues in the footprints left and the photos of the crime scene. Dewey finally gets a lead when an inmate who previously bunked with Hickock had told him about the Clutter family and how he described the safe to him. Eventually, they catch Perry and Hickock in Las Vegas, where they are brought back to Kansas to stand trial. Their trial is short, with the death sentence being the final verdict. They are on death row for about five and a half years where they appeal the verdict. However, the novel ends with their hangings while Dewey observes them.
Capote masterfully crafts a vibrant and haunting world in this novel, and I felt severely conflicted with the main murderer it focuses on, Perry. It’s alluded he had some sort of schizophrenia, and had had a rough childhood. I liked how at parts of the novel, Capote takes excerpts of people’s conversations, and how both Perry views himself and the rest of the world views him. It’s imagery and conflict feel completely real, and I can see why this novel has existed in the literary cannon.
Final Rating: 5/5
The Kenyon Review Summer 2023 is a collection of poetry, short stories, and essays focusing on Women’s Health and ecopoetics. I was particularly drawn to the essay, ‘Shelter in Place’, by Sydney Tammarine, the essay, ‘How to Tell a True Love Story’, by Leslie Jill Patterson, the story, ‘Robber’s Lake’, by Emma Binder, the story, ‘Burnings’, by Kabi Hartman, and the poem, ‘Comfort Food’, by Terrance Hayes. In ‘Robber’s Lake’, a boy fashions himself a diving rig to go to the bottom of a lake and bring back his mother’s painting which he thinks will bring her out of her depression. He enlists the help of an older gay man and as the boy searches, his contraption fills with water and the man has to jump in to save him. This collection was strong in its discussion of the environment and how women are vital for a healthy world.
Final Rating: 4/5
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn is a memoir about a son whose father gets into trouble, becomes homeless, and their complicated father-son relationship. The father believes himself to be a great writer (though never publishes anything), goes to jail for forgery and robbing banks, and becomes homeless after bouts of drinking and threatening people. Flynn has his own struggles with drugs and alcohol, gets into drug dealing schemes, but is able to carry himself through tough times. Flynn eventually works at a homeless shelter in Boston, where inevitably his father appears. Not only is Flynn trying to distance himself from his father, but then his mother then commits suicide. Flynn reels from this loss and at one point, decides to create a documentary with all his mother’s past partners. It’s a strong foray into how a father-son relationship can be continually fraught, but also is kept alive.
The memoir takes on different forms, with one part being a script for a play about santas and daughters, another part listing facts his father tells him, and some meta-textual references at the end. It’s a heartbreaking story about relationships, drug/alcohol abuse, and how best to pick up the pieces.
Final Rating: 4/5
Holy American Burnout! by Sean Enfield is a collection of essays ruminating and expanding upon being a middle school teacher at a Muslim school during the lead up to the 2016 presidential election. Enfield discusses his frustration and sadness of the inhumane treatment of Black people in America, police brutality, islamophobia, and where he fits into the whole mix. The collection experiments with form, in one essay structured as if a lesson plan, another structured in acts, and others bouncing between space/time and pop culture. I particularly enjoyed the essays ‘To Pimp a Mockingbird – Lesson Plan’, ‘Teacher, Don’t Teach Me Nonsense’, ‘All My Niggas Was white – Notes from the Color Line’, and ‘To Be (or not to be) in a Rage Almost All the Time – An Essay in Five Acts’. It’s a lovely and powerful collection and I am happy to have been part of the team to publish it.
The Kenyon Review Spring 2023 is a collection of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and translations which heavily focused on translations edited by Jennifer Croft, Jeremy Tiang, and Anton Hur. Overall, I thought it was a decent issue, and there were some wacky stories, such as ‘Tumbleweed’ by Ao Omae and translated by Emily Balistrieri which follows the life of a movie star tumbleweed who had once been a person. Another strange story was ‘The Aspiration for Cha-Ka-Ta-Pa’ by Bae Myung-Hoon and translated by Sung Ryu which is about a futuristic time where people go to a library to be immersed in life of the 2020’s and the language/spelling is not like I’ve seen before. There were two stories that I enjoyed which were ‘A Field Guide to the Bear-Men of Leningrad’ by Sam J. Miller and ‘Two-Headed Dog’ by J. T. Sutlive. The first story features a town in which people fear bear-men who come in at night and eat the villagers, but it turns out that the speaker realizes they’re one of the bear-men. And the second story is about two men, one American who teaches English, the other a Japanese man who works construction/clean-up after a tsunami. The two men are gay and grow close and have an on/off relationship. And I enjoyed the subtlety of the emotions between the two when one of them grieves the loss of his brother in the tsunami. Overall, I enjoyed the short stories, albeit they were a little weird, but didn’t connect too much with the poetry.
Final Rating: 3/5
Dryland Issue 11 is a collection of poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, and interviews focusing on the people and experiences of South Central LA. There were a few poems that I enjoyed, particularly, ‘We’re Still Too Close to Mexico, Still so Far from God’ by Antonia Silva, ‘Watching the Sunrise from the Second Story’ by Angel Cerritos, ‘A Car Crash is not a Poem’ by Lupita Limón Corrales, ‘Amá Teaches Me How to Whistle’ by Moncho Alvarado, and ‘Newlywed in a Pandemic’ by Samantha Rivas. I also enjoyed the nonfiction piece, ‘My Dad Who Bakes Bread’ by Cecilia Caballero because of how it ties their family history to food and how that changes and alters how they see the world. I enjoyed the issue overall, though found the short fiction to—at times—be a little too simplistic. (Note: Dryland was renamed to sin cesar after this issue.)
Final Rating: 3/5
sin cesar Issue 12 is a collection of poetry, nonfiction, fiction, interviews, and Spanish translations focused on and about the LA diasphonic experience. The issue featured poems I enjoyed, such as ‘Future Aztec Palimpsest’ by Magally Zelaya, ‘quien decide what a border is’ by Sandra Sanchez, and ‘Zapotec’ by Hermelinda Monjaras Hernandez. Though, I was struck by the intensity and rawness of Tongo Eisen-Martin’s poem ‘Repeating’, and was absolutely floored by the lines, “Young man,/You will admit/That sometimes/Suicide is power/Some people live stronger as ghosts”. It’s a punchy issue, and I enjoyed the succinctness and power in each piece.
Final Rating: 4/5
The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011 is a collection of lists, poems, stories, essays, and comics edited by Dave Eggers, with an introduction by Guillermo Del Toro. It’s a thick and somewhat intimidating collection, but regardless, I enjoyed many of the stories within its pages. These stories/essays included ‘We Show What We Have Learned’ by Clare Beams (about a teacher whose body falls apart in front of her students), ‘The Deep’ by Anthony Doerr (about a man whose mother kept him from the world because of his heart condition), ‘Weber’s Head’ by J. Robert Lennon (about a roommate feud between a sculptor and a web editor), ‘The Suicide Catcher’ by Michael Paterniti (about the real-life Mr. Chen who catches people from jumping off the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge), and ‘Pleiades’ by Anjali Sachdeva (about in vitro septuplets dying due to health complications). These stories were tender, loving, and ached with life. Specifically, I thought ‘The Deep’ was powerful in how it treated the mother’s overprotection and the son’s desire to live even if it meant he was bound to die.
The story by Joyce Carol Oates, ‘A Hole in the Head’, had an interesting premise and was written well enough for me to be held by its narrator. Though the story felt like it fell squarely within the territory of genre fiction and read like another story of hers in Best American Short Stories 2011 about a daughter who can’t identify her mother’s body. Another story in the collection that I didn’t feel too enthused about was ‘Art of the Steal’ by Joshuah Bearman mainly due to the same pitfalls of Oats’ story, in that it didn’t do anything fresh with the genre. Overall, however, I enjoyed the variety, and many of the stories.
Final Rating: 4/5
A Captain’s Duty by Richard Phillips is an account of his harrowing story off the shore of Somalia where his cargo ship was captured by pirates, and he was taken hostage in a lifeboat in 2009. The book goes through Captain Phillips’ actions to prepare for an attack, what he did to keep his crew safe, and how he survived. The tension between the pirates and Captain Phillips is palpable as he accounts the mock executions, the humiliation, and his crews’ actions. It was interesting to read his account because I remembered the event in the news. Though, the book revealed specific actions he’d done to keep his crew safe on the Maersk Alabama by running drills, building repertoire with the pirates, and alerting his crew over the radio. There were so many things that he’d done right, but it was interesting for him to recount and focus on the mistakes he made. And while the book’s style/content wasn’t particularly one I usually read, I still found it held up. Overall, I enjoyed the depth with which it went into Captain Phillip’s mindset and his perseverance.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.