Saturday, February 16, 2019

Brief Thoughts 27

Water by Jennifer Wilson

Freja Folsom, a reporter from Des Moines, is assigned to a story about a man who illegally made a well in the city's emergency water supply. She has no desire to work on it as nobody reads environmental stories. However, being at risk for being laid off and finding herself fascinated by the renegade well-maker, she throws herself into the story.

Water is an interesting mix. At it's core, it's a romance about Freja's breakup with a politician and her falling for the man she's writing a story about. However, a big focus on the book is looking at the issue of nitrate pollution in Iowa rivers and what can be done about it. Wilson makes the mixture work.

As the book mentions, environmental issues can be very dry, but I found the explanations of the effects of nitrate pollution here to be interesting. The book is somewhat didactic about the issue, but it doesn't feel preachy. It brings in several characters who would be intimately connected to the issue, public servants, farmers, and people at risk from nitrate poisoning, that the explanations feel very natural. All sides of the issues are presented in a pretty fair way, even though it's clear where the author comes down on it.

While I'm not a huge fan of romance stories, I still found the story here engaging. The dynamic between her former boyfriend, a politician who (surprise!) turns out to be a sleazeball, feels very real. The one between her and the man she's doing a story about feels rather underdeveloped. They don't talk that much, as the man is refusing to share anything, and the reveal of their mutual feelings is a bit sudden. Despite that, it was still a satisfying read.

I think this is a book well-worth reading, even if you're not at all interested in Iowa pollution issues. It was also published through a local Iowa business, so you'll be supporting them by buying it.

Buy Water by Jennifer Wilson here.

Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan 

Shane is a completely directionless man. He works as a temp at an insurance company, where he spends most of his time sleeping in the bathroom. He has nothing but resentment for his aggressive girlfriend Gwen, he's having an affair with his landlord's wife, and he's addicted to stealing saltshakers. When his a close friend, a deaf woman who works as he dentist's assistant, turns up dead, he needs to prove his innocence.

This book is just hilarious. It had me hooked from the beginning where a pair of cops find Shane asleep in his bed covered in salt from shakers still in his pocket. Thinking it's cocaine, one of the cops sniffs it. Some of the other ridiculous moments include a wannabe drug dealer who dresses his guinea pig in bondage gear, the sex Shane has with Gwen that leaves him bruised and battered, and the cheap girl's bicycle that barely works that he rides everywhere.

Besides its ridiculous comedy, there's also some great satire of corporate America. Shane despises his job at the company. Besides how empty it is, he hates the false "feel good" attitude pushed on him and the other employees and how the others accept it. If you've ever worked a job with bullshit "team building exercises" and mandatory "fun" events, you'll get where he's coming from.

I think this is a hilarious and excellent novel. I'm looking forward to what Paul Neilan does next. If he ever does. This book was published in 2007 and he's put out nothing since. He has a blog, but it hasn't updated in over a decade. It's a shame that he'll likely end up a one book author.

Buy Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan here.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

New Review of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Saying Goodbye

"When taken in isolation, the stories convey an idiosyncratic sense of humor and the absurd. Here, Arzate’s imagination excels. His knack for extravagant absurdities, and the strangeness of daily life, rarely fails to entertain."

So says Daulton Dickey, author of Flesh Made World and webmaster of Lost in the Funhouse.

Read the full review here.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Brief Thoughts 26

Beatnik Fascism by Brandon Adamson

The title of Brandon Adamson's second poetry book, released in 2016, has several possible layers to it. The most obvious on is that it's a tongue-in-cheek reference to this being a collection of beatnik-inspired poetry with many of the poems being political and coming from a right-wing perspective. As Adamson points out in the introduction, it's also a reference to a Twilight Zone episode where a group of aliens working for a fascist galactic empire disguise themselves as beatnik bikers. One could also interpret it as a jab at many self-proclaimed non-conformists becoming overbearing assholes when they gain power.

Despite Adamson's own right-wing beliefs, he finds himself ill-at-ease with other people on the political right in several of these poems. He expresses a lot of disdain for corporations and capitalism in general. He also finds himself skeptical towards right-wing mass movements in general. This is something I think many across the political spectrum could relate with. My own views are far more to the left than those of Adamson's and I find myself unable to relate to any left-wing mass movements which currently exist.

One thing that will get a lot of people to reject this book is Adamson's obvious disdain for immigrants. The poems here which talk about the issue read as The Camp of the Saints-style paranoia to me. These are my least favorites in the book, partly because of my disagreement with him that immigrants are a profound threat, but mostly because I found them the most heavy-handed.

My favorite poems in the book are the non-political ones, such as one about the killing of Harambe. One would think it would be impossible to take it seriously after all the memes and jokes, but it's actually an insightful look into the relationship between man and nature. The poems about frustrated romance also have a lot of emotional verisimilitude to them, avoiding condemnation of women or men and engaging in self-criticism where it's needed.

I believe Adamson is a very talented poet between this and his newest book, Skytrain to Nowhere, though I would recommend the latter over this one. I think Skytrain... works far better as a whole.

Buy Beatnik Fascism by Brandon Adamson here.

Prague by Maria Morisot 

Maria Morisot, aka Moan Lisa, is a highly prolific poet and artist from Iowa who has put out multiple poetry books, collage pieces, and paintings. Prague, released in 2015, collects three chapbooks; My Hidden Muse, Blue Collar, and Committed.

My Hidden Muse largely consists of love poems. A recurring theme in them is love and desiring consuming one like a fire, fire being a recurring motif in these poems. Longing is both a beautiful and miserable experience here. Morisot makes use of some interesting wordplay as well.

Would you want to place
your head upon my wrist,
write. Relax and write;
let all others reinterpret all
our varicose dreams.

In Blue Collar, love poems still make up most of the it, but religion and religious imagery are more of a focus. There is also more use of surreal imagery, much of which is often apocalyptic. It does not, however, present such a thing as the end, but a new beginning.

To shake the foundation
of life's miscarriages;
to sow the seeds of false
beliefs into the bosom
of the walking dead. 

Committed is the most pessimistic and downbeat of the three. Most of the poems here are about loss, grief, and the end of relationship. Many of them also speak about an inability to move on from this fractured relationship, leaving one trapped in a limbo.

This timelessness,
between beatings of a 
newborn's heart;
where her mask
fades, and I
see everything.  

Prague is a solid collection of poems with some nice imagery and real, intense emotion behind them. A few of them slip into melodrama, but nothing that brings the book to a halt. This is a book well-worth your time if you enjoy poetry. I'll be picking up more of Morisot's work in the near future.

Buy Prague by Maria Morisot here.

Best of Books at Cultured Vultures

Over at Cultured Vultures, my fellow contributors and I named the best books we read in 2018 and the best books published in 2018. See our picks at the links below.

6 Best New Books of 2018 You Should Read

6 Best Books We Read This Year

I also have a review of Shane Jesse Christmass's anti-novel Belfie Hell up.

Read it here.