PositivePloughsharesManguso...grew up in a similar town on the east coast, and the duality of a life lived amongst far wealthier peers is another theme that often repeats throughout her work. In Very Cold People, she pays homage to this wealth gap while also illuminating how wealth or a lack thereof doesn’t necessarily mean protection for young girls from a world that’s desperate to objectify and sexualize them as soon as possible ... Often, our belief in ourselves was dependent on our belief in the boys and men around us. If they liked you, you were doing something right. If not, keep trying. Very Cold People understands this experience, and in Manguso’s capable hands, the story of Ruthie grows out of itself to encompass a world of feminine time in which the most innocent of actions can be mistaken for unwanted attention.
PositiveSpectrum CultureAll but one of the sections (more on that in a moment) work seamlessly together to create a story that is less about the blood and the gore of crime and more about the people behind the crimes ... At first, Devil House can be a bit difficult to get into, especially if you are expecting it to kick off with a grizzly recounting of the crime in question. Instead, Darnielle chooses to lead the reader in slowly, acclimating us to Chandler and his particular methods of research. Eventually, we realize that this is not your normal murder mystery as Darnielle’s main focus seems to be less on what happened and more on the people involved in the story. In many ways, the book reads like the antithesis to a true mystery. We know relatively early on who is responsible for the crime, but our interest is held with Darnielle’s deep dive into the psyches of everyone involved. At its best, Devil House is a book more interested in exploring the lives of the potential suspects and victims that existed before any crime was committed so that we might gain better insight into their motives and their fears ... For the most part, Darnielle’s latest is a gripping account of what it means to tell the truth, and how sometimes telling a truth doesn’t necessarily add up to telling the whole truth. Much like his music, Darnielle’s descriptions of Satanic rituals and seedy backroom porn store life color the story, giving it a texture that both repels you all while drawing you in with its grime ... The medieval connection is one that feels deeply important to Darnielle (he even makes a specific point to mention first thing, two medieval history books in his acknowledgements section as being extremely useful to his writing process) but may leave readers feeling a bit miffed. Fans of medieval history may have better luck parsing this particular concept of the book, but it may not be for everyone. Overall though, Devil House is an interesting look at how even when we do our best to tell the truth, we may be missing other truths that can paint the story in an entirely different way.
RavePloughsharesPop Song begins to read like a beautiful, literary breakup album, each essay operating as its own track. By the time you’ve turned the final pages, you want nothing more than to flip the metaphorical album over, drop the needle, and begin again ... The space that [Dolly Parton\'s] \'I Will Always Love You\' creates for the listener to superimpose their own romantic stories onto the lyrics is likewise something that Pop Song masters ... Like her use of the vague \'you,\' Pham’s descriptions of pain afford the reader a chance to recognize their own relationships within the pages; it is these ambiguous details of her romance, details that for Pham often seem tender to the touch, that elevate the experience of reading Pop Song to the same level as a pop song on the radio ... Pham offers us the catchy, familiar storylines of love and breakups so that we might recognize some of ourselves, and then she blows past us with a truly original meditation on life and art that one can’t help but awe ... There is an innocence to Pop Song. It is youthful and full of the college-aged idiosyncrasies and fears that many of her readers can relate to. At times, this innocence can feel a bit meddling, as if it’s unable to see past its inexperience towards something sharp and revelatory. At the same time, though, isn’t this what all great breakup albums do?
Elizabeth Miki Brina
RaveThe RumpusSpeak, Okinawa is masterful at describing the internal dissonance that mixed race children can feel ... Brina details the often painful isolation mixed race children feel when trying to find belonging within their inherited ethnicities. She describes this inner conflict with biting clarity ... In one beautifully rendered chapter, Brina lays out, almost in list form, all of the crimes committed against the Okinawans at the hand of the United States military ... This list creates a cumulative effect that works to solidify the importance of freeing Okinawa from the hands of the United States military ... At the core of Speak, Okinawa, there is forgiveness ... She bears witness to her family’s complicated histories, and in doing so, she bears witness to herself, a mixed race woman born out of the generational trauma of two distinct, beautiful, tragic worlds.