I normally don't write bad reviews no matter how much I dislike a book, but this feels more like a public service announcement.
A few weeks ago Long Shot Books received a novel submission (even though we aren't taking any submissions right now) titled, Owl or Nothin' by Tucker Cowson. I don't really write reviews on manuscripts, but Todd kind of forced my hand.
I was ready to let the author down gently and by letting him know that LSB isn't accepting manuscript submissions right now, but Todd begged me to read it. Said I'd love it. Promised it was the Next Great American Novel.
So I read it, and here's what I think:
If this is the standard of Art now, Mona Lisa would be crying.
The plot holes of Owl or Nothin' are big enough to walk through with “twists” that are more of a mental gymnastics exercise. Cowson treats shock value like a literary device used un-ironically.
Its pseudo-intellectual prose attempts to come across as self-aware. At the climax, the main character, Todd, proclaims, “I'm brilliant enough to recognize my own genius!” (Also, naming the main character after a publisher you're submitting to reads more like a desperate plea than an aesthetic choice.)
With as many classic book and movie references Cowson throws into the narrative and as much as he talks about Michelangelo, I thought this would be more like Casablanca and less like The Room.
In his query letter, the author classifies this book as a slice of life piece, but I'd call it more of a fantasy—a fantasy that this thing would ever have a shot at LSB.
xoxo - Maureen
Nineteen is a coming of age novel that follows hopeless romantic Cameron Metzger as he navigates his post-adolescent life. In first person POV, Cameron chronicles is experiences with his exes, struggles with his family, and feelings of aimlessness as he's about to turn twenty.
At the start of the book, Cameron admits doesn't feel like a true member of the family. He has two older siblings, Laura and Doug, who are both almost a decade older than him. He feels distant from them in ways he can't quite explain. He carries the weight of the constant perceived disappointment from his parents. Cameron's relationship with is dad is tense because you know, he's doing the dad stuff like constantly asking him what his next move is and to move of that damn car out of the garage already.
And he doesn't know what his next move is. Cameron's trapped in the in between—he doesn't feel confident about going to college or assured of working at a grocery store forever. He wants to make a move but wants to make the right choice.
Cameron's also haunted by memories of his exes and bears the pain of heartbreak as he's on the cusp of falling in love again. Even though his relationships with his past loves ultimately wound him in some way, he loves them fully. In true romantic fashion, I think in some ways he always will. Even though he tries to deny himself love, he somehow always finds it.
As we follow him through his journey, Cameron unveils a secret about himself that answers a number of questions about his life, but this secret threatens to unravel not only his world, but the lives of everyone closest to him. With this knowledge, he struggles with how to move forward.
With that being said, here's what I think:
There's a lot to love about this book.
First, if you want to learn about crafting character relationships and exploring meaningful dynamics, read this book. Each relationship feels real and distinct from one another. You can cut the tension between Cameron and his dad with a knife and taste the constant separation he feels between himself and his parents. You can feel the loose camaraderie Cameron has with his brother and yearn with him for closeness with his sister. You easily could beg for a spin-off novel of Cameron and his friend John Lind being bros. Your heart breaks again and again as he remembers his exes.
No character feels one dimensional, even the minor ones. I feel like I've met these people before, or even know them currently. Hell, I've even been Cameron for a scene or two. I understand how it feels to compare your perceived failures to the successes of your siblings. I resonate with the regret of missed opportunities and bad decisions. I get the all too real fears of falling in love again while struggling with the anxieties surrounding my own baggage—but I know how cathartic it feels to accept someone wholly and be accepted as I am.
This book also shows the very relatable experience of folks coming and going in life. Goodbye doesn't mean someone truly leaves—people are like boomerangs or revolving doors, really. When you think you've seen the last of a character (again, no matter how minor), they reappear in such organic ways. It reminds me every person in our lives stays connected to us, even long after the relationship ends and the credits roll.
This novel demonstrates how we're told that our pasts shouldn't define us, but still they haunt us. Take his friend John Lind for instance, who earns the scorn of his parents after he gets expelled from a prestigious university and struggles to make things right. Or his friend Lisa, who relives harrowing memories of a former husband. Or Stephanie who wonders what could have been.
Finally, it's important to note that for someone who has been deeply wounded in loving someone else, he still continues to see love everywhere—and that's a beautiful thing. Cameron brings himself to love each girl he's dated despite his initial reservations. He continues to fall in love even though he tells himself not to, and he selflessly wants love for other people.
If you couldn't guess this already, I'd totally recommend Nineteen.
See for yourself-- pick up your copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Follow Arly Carmack on her website, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo credit: Arly Carmack
All Those Lilting Tongues is a chapbook consisting of seventeen masterfully crafted and nuanced pieces. As this collection unfolds, you'll be crawling along the Earth's spine, watching the fire's rain dance on the Eucalyptus in the front yard, and wondering what to do with yourself while you wait for the shops to open at nine.
These poems show us what it means to long for something lost—to walk the shore without the hand in yours or the warmth of skin beneath a coat. “What Was Breaking” whispers of false, fragile moments suspended in their own happiness until you can't stand it. These poems will remind you that “It's a waste of magic to wish someone dead.”
Each verse is laced with this raw wisdom and strength set in concrete details and potent word choice. She lets these tangible details – the leafless arms of the IV tree or the stained glass pieces pressed into a smile – do the heavy lifting. Her tactful use of form further demonstrates her mastery of this art.
These are poems we need. These are poems whose truths we crave. These are poems that will pulsate in the brain long after you set this chapbook down.
Find All Those Lilting Tongues here.
Photo credit: Theresa Hamman
Ever After the End Matter by Sarah Ann Winn is a gem from Pork Belly Press that has a hauntingly beautiful and fairy-tale like consistency that spans about 20 poems. Each piece is strong enough to stand on its own, though with the chapbook's careful construction, every piece works together to contribute to the whole.
Ever After the End Matter starts off strong with a series of snips titled "Exhibition Catalogue from the Grimm Forest Open Air Museum" and appropriately ends with a series of Appendix pieces. The chapbook offers an impressive variety of forms, notably in the above and in "Seven Reasons to Sew Shirts for Swans."
Winn also hits us with strong images and leads us down a path of precise word choice:
"See how centuries/ old houses crumble, / the futile words hurled / after the gone away, / the empty ever after" ("Exhibition Catalogue from the Grimm Forest Open Air Museum: Activity, page 10.")
"Even as the sky goes into pieces / they are glad for the fog / wear shawls and long sleeves to conceal their stories" ("Witch's Market Souvenir Snow Globe")
"The old woman once joked once with a baker about / going back to school for a degree in architecture, so she could / build gingerbread houses with open floor plans" ("Appendix Char")
This collection of potent poems will linger with you long after you close the book and put it back on the shelf.
Find the book here.
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Cover art by Alexandra Eldridge.
If you haven't heard of Pork Belly Press, then you might be illiterate. It's going to be O.K. I won't tell anyone. Just head on over to their Twitter Feed and click follow before anyone else notices. I wanted to review their chapbook, Wednesday's Child by Lisette Alonso because I like the song “Thursday's Child” by David Bowie. Needless to say, I wasn't familiar with the material beforehand, but I'm glad to have acquainted myself.
The chapbook is a collection of poems from the perspective of a girl named Sofia. They each center around a different aspect of her life that she is observing, from her own lineage to determining whether The Incredible Hulk is a hero or villain. Alonso has a talent for reminding us of just how filthy and confusing childhood can be. This isn't a rose-tinted look back to our formative years. Instead, it's like wearing glasses for the first time and seeing things much more clearly, recognizing details you hadn't seen before. The book is full of interesting descriptions and memorable lines like, “Brown lettuce like confetti caught in her/eyelashes, moldy bread for a pillow” from the opening, “Dumpster Baby.”
There are ten pieces in this chap, easy enough to read in half an hour and pick up more than once. I've always said that you shouldn't judge a game by the length of its campaign but how many times you can replay it. I think Wednesday's Child has a lot to come back for.
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