A Haunting, Layered Thriller: A Review of David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s “Winter Counts”

"Winter Counts"

Writing an entertaining novel is no easy task. Writing a novel that contains enough pulp to be entertaining but also has rhyzomatic tendrils that reach deep into the realm of cultural significance, history, and justice is even harder. David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts does exactly that. At once a violent, touching story about the effects of the opioid pandemic in a Native American reservation and a celebration of the strength and resilience of the Sicangu Lakota Nation, Winter Counts is book that demands to be read not just because it’s engaging, but because it matters. 

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Poetry Against Authoritarianism: A Review of Randall Gavin Horton’s “{#289-128}: Poems”

Randall Horton coverThough I’m not typically one to write reviews for works of poetry, I was happy to take on {#289-128} by Randall Gavin Horton — a collection of poems that examines mass incarceration in the United States. 

Horton divides his book into three sections: Property of the State, Poet-in Residence, and Poet New York. Each section follows the trajectory of the speaker ([#289-128]) from when he is turned over to the state to when he manages to reclaim his identity after his time is served, illustrating the ways in which a prisoner remains imprisoned beyond their time on the inside.

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A Singular Take on Cultural History: On Luc Sante’s “Maybe the People Would Be the Times”

Luc Sante

If Luc Sante wrote the phone book I’d read it. Twice. Happily, Sante’s new book Maybe the People Would Be the Times gathers pieces about music, art, and city life from the last twenty-plus years, so what he writes about is as compelling as the style with which he does it. Sante stubbornly refuses to write a stale line. Whether paying tribute to the young Patti Smith or imagining the subsequent lives of the original owners of 45s in his collection or recalling the long-gone businesses and denizens of the Lower East Side, he puts the reader right there, seeing what he saw, thinking what he thought.

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Haunted People in a Shifting Landscape: A Review of David Joy’s “When These Mountains Burn”

David Joy cover

Imagine a tree in an old growth forest. The core is ancient. Its roots have been in the earth for centuries, drawing substance from it while helping shape the ecosystem around it and even becoming an ecosystem itself. However, at the tip of its branches burgeons new life, infant shoots that are new to the world. This tree is just like David Joy’s latest novel, When These Mountains Burn; something both old and new that embodies change and permanence while also reminding us that things we imagine monolithic, like places and cultures, are malleable, changing, ephemeral. 

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Separating Person From Persona: A Review of “Conversations with William T. Vollmann”

"Conversations..." cover

While Daniel Lukes and I faced a number of curious challenges as we worked on the project that ultimately became our 2015 William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion, I found among the most vexing the disentanglement of the myth of William T. Vollmann from the reality of his achievement. Both are oversized, so much so that they can stagger belief. The critics who had done the most extensive earlier work on his oeuvre, the great Larry McCaffery and the late Michael Hemmingson, offered both supportive words and helpful insights. Their writings were not just useful critical signposts, but dear companions at a point when it seemed no one else was interested in grappling with the tremendously fertile, book-producing singularity that is William T. Vollmann.

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The Mythic, the Real, and the Profane: A Review of Leah Hampton’s “F*ckface and Other Stories”

Leah Hampton cover

Leah Hampton isn’t fucking around. You don’t call a short story collection what she called hers if the plan is to be indirect. But for all its bluntness, her writing is subtle and multilayered. As great as Hampton is at sketching out living, breathing people, she’s at least as adept at using symbol and metaphor. Even when I could see a plot cocking its fist back, I was helpless to dodge the blow to my gut. The worst part is I was laughing out loud moments before getting clobbered.

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Reinventing Postmodernism: A Review of Charles Yu’s “Interior Chinatown”

Charles Yu book cover

Once upon a time, when postmodernism was young—before it became what-the-hell-is-postmodernism-really(?) and post-postmodernism—unique literary conceits were enough to draw oohs and ahs from critics. Think of John Barth with the nested narrative loops and literary equations of Lost in the Funhouse; Nabokov with the fiction inside poetry inside criticism of Pale Fire; or Coover with his cinematic A Night at the Movies. Great as those works were in their time, the audacious formal tricks that defined them have, to a great extent, already been tried. The novel as screenplay…or treatment…or cinema, for example, has been done and done and done. So much that when I came to Charles Yu’s latest, Interior Chinatown, I wondered whether there could possibly be enough of a point to what seems primarily a formal experiment. Could Yu, a writer I confess to liking, even admiring, possibly do enough to justify publishing a novel like this in 2020? Then I read it. And, in this instance, at least, reading is believing.

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Addiction Is a Family Matter: A Review of Rose Andersen’s “The Heart and Other Monsters”

"The Heart and Other Monsters" cover

 

The United States’ opioid epidemic continues to cost tens of thousands of Americans their lives each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nearly 450,000 Americans died of overdoses involving opioids between 1999 and 2018, with more than 46,000 of those deaths occurring in 2018 alone. The crisis has personally impacted Rose Andersen, whose debut memoir The Heart and Other Monsters sorts through the past to better understand the life of her younger sister Sarah, who suffered a fatal drug overdose in 2013, when she was twenty-four. At the onset of this story, we are provided a disclaimer: Some of the events in this memoir have been fictionalized, imagined by the author in instances where she was not physically present to witness what actually happened. The invented scenes pertain to the nature of Sarah’s death; while Sarah was indeed a drug addict who died of an overdose, Andersen has reason to believe she was murdered, and in this book, she lays out the case. 

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