PositivePloughsharesThere’s an intentional millennial-ness—or, more specifically, something particular to the Oregon Trail generation, a microgeneration of the millennials—to Claire Vaye Watkins’s new novel ... Though Watkins doesn’t explore the binary of who most deserves happiness—mother or baby (or even the baby’s dad back home)—she does liberate her alter ego from the inherently limited social constructs of motherhood and womanhood. In doing so, Watkins asks readers to sit with discomfort until something gives ... Although Claire describes the ways she has been abandoned by her parents, Claire’s (temporarily) abandoned infant daughter, Ruth, is almost entirely absent from the novel. But it’s Claire’s imagining of the way her infant daughter thinks of her that highlights Claire’s own feelings about herself as a mother.
PositivePloughsharesNo One Is Talking About This is unnervingly not hyperbolic in Lockwood’s lyric, humorous rendering of this familiar world ... Often the examples Lockwood includes in No One Is Talking About This are recognizable as directly lifted from our world, like the Folgers incest commercial and the \'Charlie bit my finger\' video. Recognizing these inclusions makes us complicit in the portal, emphasizing just how public this space really is and forcing us to question the preciousness of our time in comparison to what gems the instant may bring ... Though the narrator is primarily obsessed with the portal, Lockwood makes clear in moments like this one that the portal is a social media platform, not the internet at large. The narrator’s reliance on the internet for instant delivery of information—like Proteus syndrome—is separate from her relationship with the portal, which is entertaining (and consuming) but lacks purpose.
Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Illustrated by Fumi Nakamura
RavePloughshares... awe-inducing and delightfully whimsical ... Nezhukumatathil cultivates optimism through the sparkle and shrieks of the animals she describes and the flora and fauna right outside our windows. Perhaps counterintuitively, she sometimes imbues the natural world with human qualities, which contributes to the collection’s whimsy, but she points out, too, how humans have put at risk some of the most wonderous species and phenomena, cautioning us to consider our actions and how they impact all of the living things around us. Despite the catastrophes of climate change and flagrant racism, Nezhukumatathil’s essays radiate wonder and delight.
PositivePloughsharesAlongside and through his scrutiny of the formatting of both a page’s text and its white space, Monson repeatedly examines self, memory, and the nature of truth in nonfiction in the contexts that compel him ... Monson probes self, truth, and memory through his own subjectivity and cultural interests, though in this collection the poles of arid Tucson and wet, green Michigan and their relative traumas and violence play a crucial role in depicting these themes; along the way, Monson never loses sight of form and its relationship to content ... reading this collection as a whole, we’re drawn to the threads between the essays, though they might look different in each setting ... In many ways, Monson’s essays feel so pedestrian—perhaps that’s why I’m charmed by them. He’s just a suburban dad living in the desert, getting all scratched up doing yard work, reminiscing about his childhood in the UP, putting up a massive Christmas display, and fixating on the violence close to home. At the same time, his essays stun because he un-perforates our sentences blistered with trauma and violence.
RavePloughsharesThese stories mostly transpire in the swirl of Los Angeles and its surrounding beach communities—Hermosa Beach, recovery centers in Malibu—peopled by Botoxed, appearance-obsessed, waifish women, men who date women decades younger as if they are disposable, and protagonists who don’t quite fit in this world ... Patterson demonstrates her storytelling prowess in what she leaves unsaid. Rather than write the trauma—a half brother molesting his sister, a father committing incest with his daughter—she lets the characters’ reactions and the trajectories of their lives communicate what she does not explicitly describe ... Patterson has a flare for endings, deftly avoiding tying her stories into tidy, saccharine bows, but neither are they crushingly dark ... Patterson’s spare yet beautiful conclusions are ambiguous, leaving the reader with neither the complete destruction of the character nor the promise that they’ll prosper.
Betwixt and Between
PositiveThe Kenyon Review\"This book stays true to [Boully\'s] genre-bucking tradition rather than manifesting as a dry, textbook-like rendition of how to write like the ones she chaffed against when she was younger ... Boully feels the world deeply and understands its liminal natural—the betwixt-and-between of it. In her descriptions of the writing life, which are mostly essays about her life since \'writing should be [your] life,\' as she tells her students, Boully captures this shifting, hard to pin down world in her characteristic poetic prose that keeps readers swirling ... in short, here, as elsewhere, [Boully] does what she wants, beautifully.\