Article Thumbnail

MICROREVIEW: CARMEN MARIA MACHADO’S IN THE DREAM HOUSE

Review by ethan pickett

VIOLENCE  

            We are forced to consider violence every day. We are confronted by it, made to sit with its implications. We have strong ideas about who is violent and who can be violent. We pretend we know what it looks like.

            There is a dramatic shift that happens when someone we thought we loved (or could love or want to love or, unfortunately, continue to love) commits an act of violence against someone else; when we have to come to terms with the proximity of such a harsh world to our small and seemingly safe communities. I know firsthand what it feels like to lose love over a dispute none of us want to relive. To have a community violated in such a way— that is, from within— is a poignant sadness unmatched by any other. To be on the receiving end of inter-communal violence is devastating.

            These are, however, hard truths. The lack of representation that this type of brutal act sees is, in a way, demeaning to those who have been required to steep in its effects. Representation not only matters, but is vital to reaching understanding.

BUILDING

            Using bricks of association to build a house out of memory which may be confusing, but is certainly a waking nightmare. She uses the clarity of the present as a lens through which to process. She knows this is a story that needs to be told. She knows there are people that need to hear what she has to say. She knows these narratives of the past are still becoming, still filling themselves out as time passes. She knows there are still people struggling to find voice in the cacophony of social pressure, even when it can be masked as freedom. She knows all of these things as she lays her foundation and piles memory on top of it, brick by brick.

PLACEMENT

            She refuses to be tokenized, to be used as a representative for a whole, to be the archetype. She asserts herself as a person with something to say. Someone whose story can help other people understand. Someone who has empathy, complicated relationships with people and with memory, and a comprehension of her own placement in the world. She is not a symbol.

VOCABULARY

            You are stunned by the beauty and the simplicity existing simultaneously, and that’s just in the words. More, you are placed in this moment from the very beginning where you are asked to consider the mere existence of a text such as this one in “How do we right the wronged people of the past without physical evidence of their suffering?” that comes along in a string of questions begging you to understand what the implications of this work might be.

            You are impressed by the clear-eyed confrontation of social inferences and willingness to combat those pressures, screaming unabashedly about queerness, finally investing in “helping queer folks understand what their experiences mean.” You feel a movement away from—in Machado’s words—the eternal liminality of queer women. You see the doors open.

VISIBILITY

            You wonder about the ways such an exact fear can be captured. You learn how to walk with the weight of memory hanging from your limbs, making each movement an exercise. You learn about the origins of the gaslight, about abuse scholarship, about queer trauma. You’re being educated while your heart is breaking. It is a rare feeling.

            You sit on the floor of a house—much like the one you’ve been invited into by the pages of the book you may or may not feel qualified to read—which happens to be in the same midwestern college town, while pursuing the same dream as the one in this memoir you are poring over that feels so close to your own memory, but offering new perspective in identity. You cry. The tears come not because it hurts (it does), but because you feel so seen. This was made for you out of necessity.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (Graywolf Press, 2019)

Article Thumbnail

MICROREVIEW: CHRIS DOMBROWSKI’S RAGGED ANTHEM

Review by Noah Davis

            In Chris Dombrowski’s latest poetry collection, Ragged Anthem, the poet asks America what song it now sings, examining the raw issues of towns staggering toward extinction, places where the flag was once stitched in factories before being drawn up the pole at the town square. Wrapped in these broader questions, however, is the pressing matter of who we return to, who we share our bed with, our home with. For this reason many of the poems include the poet’s wife and children, and in their faces the nation’s troubles and concerns are reflected.

            While writing this book Dombrowski lived in two places: his birth state of Michigan and his long-adopted home of Montana, both are in regions where neglect created the ache of fear and obsolescence in the citizenry.

In his poem, “Bull Elk in October River,” the reader listens to his confession

 
My own worry
remained vague though it tracked me
through winter, constant as current, though I had no name
for it, perhaps because I had no name for it.

Without the ability to name the thing that stalks him, the poet is left as prey, taking to the banks of rivers, to the brush country of upland Montana, to the pressures of debt and parenthood and the possibility of failure.

            While many of the narratives in the book are firmly situated in the human world, Dombrowski—a renowned fly-fishing guide who lives deliberately in concert with the natural world—argues that the primacy of natural selection, the predator-prey relationship is the very foundation of our existence, although most contemporary humans willfully ignore it or are simply ignorant of it.

            The poet not only suggests that fear is a natural reaction, a healthy response that keeps us and so many other species alive, but that we may also find balance, an ever-shifting center, in this very space. The closing lines of the poem “Bird in My Boot” highlights the need for humans to remember our most basic selves:

masked eyes looking past
my human to the one that aches to survive—
it lit ultimately in a blur of gray-orange,
leaving its mark to billow as it disappeared
into that country owned by the winged,
upon whose constant intercession I depend.

            Living in the shifting world of climate change, an alteration of the natural cycles that has sent much of the world into a state of anxiety and shock, Dombrowski replies to the question of “What will come next?” through his children. Whether it be the empathy his son displays toward a pheasant the family plans to eat: “I’m sorry. But as a runner I cannot cut the legs / from another animal”, or his youngest daughter saying the word “moon” for the first time as they walk together, alone on the shores of Lake Michigan, it is the possible intimacy with other humans and the more-than-human world, the possible transformations that such intimacy might provide, that offers a negotiated hope for the poet.

            Despite his deep devotion to nature, Dombrowski does not ignore human culture. An array of contemporary musicians, including Bruce Cockburn, Joni Mitchell, Elton John, and Jeffrey Foucault, make appearances in person or in quoted lyrics. This dialogue with popular music creates an intertextual conversation that ranges from the poet sending a text to his friend Jeffrey Foucault as he hunts snow geese, to the borrowing of Bruce Cockburn’s arresting line, “Like a pearl in a sea of liquid jade,” as a title to introduce Christ walking on water.

            The closing poem, “Tablet,” is one of instruction and direction, affirming a path toward wholeness and transcendence. Yet the transcendence of which the poet speaks is not a leaving of the material world but a further immersion into it. “[R]est your cheek on the shoulder of the mountain,” the poet says. Go and pick the last apple from a tree near the river and “eat it in three / juice-spilling bites.” Like a Bitterroot Mountain Moses, the poet has come down from the mountains and written a series of commands on a tablet. But rather than a collection of prohibitions, Dombrowski encourages his reader to embrace the sumptuous bounty of this world: to catch a brook trout and cook and eat it, to feed the few remains to the ants, to climb “into / the small boat of those remaining bones, / fold yourself. Then row.”

Wayne State University Press, 2019. $16.99, 67 pages.

Article Thumbnail

Interview with 1/2 K Prize Judge Megan Giddings

Indiana Review will be accepting submissions to the 1/2 K Prize from July 1 to August 15, 2019. Final judge Megan Giddings will select a winner to receive $1000 publication. In an email interview, Indiana Review invites Megan to open up about flash fiction, her novel, and gibraltar. Discover more of Megan here: www.megangiddings.com.

Indiana Review: What does flash mean to you? What’s special about the genre?

Megan Giddings: I think flash is special because when done well it teaches, or at least reminds a writer and reader, how to distill a story into its most memorable parts. The language has to be well-chosen. You can’t get lost or meander; everything has to feel purposeful. Anything that’s not contributing can lose a reader.On a personal level, I don’t think I learned how to write remotely well, until I started writing flash. Before having a word limit, I had what I call a real case of the hi-hellos-what’s ups, my lines would be really repetitive. It would take me 15 pages to tell a 7 page story. Writing flash gave me the most important skill I think an aspiring writer can have: learn how to be your own relentless editor. 

IR: What’s the most refreshing image you’ve encountered lately?

MG: I’m currently working on a bigger project and for research, I’ve been reading different folk tales. One I keep coming back to is all the different variations of “Witch Hare” (I’m using this title but there are several variations). The element that stays the same is there is an old witch who can turn herself into a rabbit. Sometimes, she just dies. Sometimes, she pulls a lot of stunts that makes villagers mad. Sometimes in addition to those stunts, she gets in trouble for cursing a younger woman to spit pins. The last version I’ve been fixated on and is a plot point for the book I’m currently writing.Reading this response over,I don’t think I would call it refreshing, but it’s one my brain can’t let go of, it keeps opening more and more creative doors for me.

IR: What’s next for you? What’re you most excited for this year?

MG: Writing life, I’m working on my second novel. But what I’m actually most excited about this year is I’m becoming an aunt for the first time. I feel like one of my ideal adult forms is aunt who buys their nieces and nephews a lot of books and when they’re older gives them sage life advice while drinking a glass of red wine.

IR: You’re throwing a dinner party! Which artists, dead or alive, are you inviting?

MG: Prince, Octavia Butler, and my 90 year old Grandma.

IR: If your literary aesthetic was a food, what would it be?

MG: Do Drinks count? It would probably be a gibraltar (on the east coast, you generally call it a cortado, but I’m using gibraltar here because there are so many variations on cortados and my response might confuse someone based on that) where the barista makes like a heart or a leaf in the foam on top. It appears outwardly very cute, but beneath the soft sweetness is intense espresso. Through the magic of the right proportions of milk and foam, the gibraltar doesn’t stray into feeling overwhelming or into uncomfortable acidity. It’s balanced and complex.

Megan Giddings is a fiction editor at The Offing and a features editor at The Rumpus. Her flash fiction has been featured in Best of the Net 2018, Best Small Fictions 2016, Black Warrior Review, and Passages North among many other places. Megan’s debut novel, Lakewood, will be published by Amistad in 2020. More about her can be found at www.megangiddings.com

Article Thumbnail

Nonfiction Feature: 42 Poorly Kept Secrets About Montevideo By Carolina De Robertis

 

42 Poorly Kept Secrets About Montevideo

 

1. Old people.
They spend the whole afternoon on this park bench, watching the water leap in the blue-tiled fountain. They strike up a conversation with you in an instant. Their anecdotes grow to epic proportions, spanning decades, their voices overlapping like a fugue. By the time sunset glows pink behind the Ferris Wheel of Parque Rodó, you are like family.

2. Empty factories.
The buildings are desolate but they take up great space: large, silent, riddled with broken windows.

3. Mate.
Green, hot, bitter. Sucked from a gourd through a metal straw. The family on the stoop, the couple on the beach, the man washing his car—they carry their thermos, pass the gourd, pouring boiled water over green leaves, over and over again.

4. The city.
It contains one million people. By far the largest city in Uruguay.

5. The river.
El Río de la Plata was named after the silver that conquistadores thought they were about to find. The water is not silver; it is brown and thick with silt. It snakes against the city, wide as the sea.

6. Grafitti.
“El sur también existe.” (The south also exists.)
“Que se jodan los Yanquis.” (Fuck the Yankees.)
“¡Viva Tabaré!” (Long live [leftist president] Tabaré!)

7. Poorly kept secrets.
Poorly because no one keeps them from the world. Secret because the world cannot know what it does not see.

8. Maps.
Montevideo can be found on many. South of Brazil, east of Argentina, hovering at the Atlantic. A capital city, drawn with a star.

9. Morcilla dulce.
Sweet blood sausage is a delicacy: a blend of walnuts, sugar, orange peel, pig’s blood.

10. Testículos.
Bull testicles are a delicacy: small, flavorful, no part is wasted.

Read more…