Posts Categorized: Microreviews

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Microreview: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties

Review by Tessa Yang

In the opening story of Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection, the narrator, stealing into the woods to have sex with her boyfriend, offers the following reflection: “I have heard all of the stories about girls like me, and I am unafraid to make more of them.” “Unafraid” is an apt descriptor of Her Body and Other Parties, released yesterday from Graywolf Press. It is a book that pushes back: against literary conventions, against the stigma and silence surrounding queer sensuality. In these eight stories, Machado bulldozes the barriers between sci-fi, fantasy, literary fiction, horror, and erotica, and makes us wonder how we ever could have dreamed of separating them. Read more…

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Microreview: Stephanie Han’s Swimming in Hong Kong

Swimming in Hong Kong by Stephanie Han (Willow Springs Books, 2016)

In Stephanie Han’s debut short story collection Swimming in Hong Kong, her protagonists dwell in liminal places, whether because of race, nationality, age, or location. Han’s exploration of these in-between states is distinguished by its complexity and unabashed embrace of the political, most notably what it means to both enact politics in one’s actions and to live in an inherently politicized body, particularly for women of color in the United States or majority-white expatriate circles abroad.

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Microreview: Rochelle Hurt’s In Which I Play the Runaway

In Which I Play the Runaway by Rochelle Hurt (Barrow Street Press, 2016)

Rochelle Hurt’s second poetry collection, In Which I Play the Runaway, does more than summon narratives of origin and growth—the poems command another language with a new alphabet of “boxcar beats,” of fluorescence, linoleum, of living inside “this hissing kettle of a house.” In impossibly small spaces, Hurt demands the creation of another sight, reckoning with the speaker’s unflinching desires.

The book layers itself with self-portraits in which the speaker imagines herself as something else. The images build upon one another until it almost becomes too much, yet the poems pace themselves accordingly. In “Poem in Which I Play the Cheat,” the speaker tells us about the origins of her love. She asks us to

 

“understand before it began before that—

Sun as first love: when I was small”

and eventually says

“What I mean is that I fall in love with surfaces.”

 

I am stunned by how these stories accumulate to form an expansive landscape of the self. I read this collection when I was traveling, and even though these poems spread across various locales, the central voice does not waver through its changes, growths, and revelations. Hurt’s poetry has the power to transform a constrained space into one of power. For example, “Halfhearted,” one of the collection’s prose breaks, ends with this:

“But here’s where I got a break: on the seventh day of each week I lived in the pit of myself. Houseless, husbandless, I slept outside, balanced on a rock—tough, whole, unable to be consumed by any desire. On those nights I was happy.”

In Which I Play the Runaway begins with a “last chance” and ends with “honesty” Through this journey, the self is made resilient, each time more complicated than before. Hurt converts the impossible into a real possibility and in so doing, makes the truth undeniable. This collection is a must for anyone thinking of transcendent landscapes and the intense making of the self.

 

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Microreview: Claudia Cortese’s Wasp Queen

Wasp Queen by Claudia Cortese (Black Lawrence Press, 2017)

Lucy—Cortese’s recurring character, our “wasp queen”—permeates this collection with stingers and Barbie heads, gauze, shopping malls, cul-de-sacs, wisteria, Ohio, Oreos and Ring Pops, Rainbow Brite, mirrors, fire, swear words, period blood, milk teeth, “the popular girls,” dirt, chicken fingers, Cheetos, lawn elves, masturbation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dirty Dancing, ribbons, rot, and milkshakes. Through these repeated images, Cortese invites us fully into Lucy’s world, wants us to be her friend, to make pinky-promises and eat a caterpillar with her.

The poem titles immediately engage and set up Lucy’s escapades in Midwestern suburbia—with titles such as “What Lucy’s World Looks Like,” “Lucy Selfie,” “What Lucy’s World Smells Like,” “What The Girls Named Lucy/ What Lucy Named The Girls,” “Lucy tilts the mirror of the CoverGirl compact between her legs.” The cover image of a slit filled with swarming wasps implies a vagina, a peek inside Lucy’s world of girlhood, viscera, aliveness.

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Microreview: Allegra Hyde’s Of This New World

Of This New World by Allegra Hyde (University of Iowa Press, 2016)

At the end of “Free Love,” the third story in Allegra Hyde’s award-winning collection, the narrator, Almond, reflects on her lingering sense of alienation in her grandmother’s household: “But I still feel strung out, loose, like a fish on land, or a girl on the moon, or a flower no one recognizes taking root in an unexpected place” (39). This line encapsulates the ambivalent condition of the collection’s protagonists: They are unrecognizable flowers, girls on the moon, struggling to feel anchored as their quests for utopia falter.

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