Almost every sentence and image in Colette Brooks’s new book should make the reader helpless not to think hard ... The essays that constitute Trapped in the Present Tense are loosely, thereby expansively, arrayed around distinct but related themes ... Brooks explores these ideas on both a macro level...as well as an intimate one. The tone shifts from reverse to drive between these layers. The tragedies that have serially struck her family are recalled obliquely, as if something so painfully stunning can only be approached with poetry’s elision. In another gear entirely, her observations of American culture are delivered in marching cadence, every sentence stark and forceful ... [Brooks'] unique claim on each topic by way of family history and personal loss whispers underneath the more stentorian cataloging of facts ... Brooks uses the structure as well as the subjects of her book to demonstrate how history unites us all, in private and public ... The section called Snapshots comprises a visual essay exploring similar perennial mysteries, among them miniatures and memorials, preservation and happenstance. It is a prose poem that could well be titled 'What If.' It is not the most poignant piece in the book — though all are poignant — but it reiterates a recurrent idea: death is witnessed by the camera eye ... Brooks never condescends to the reader by spelling out what she’s getting at. She leaves it to us to make of it what we will. Opacity as extreme generosity: extremely refreshing. Not to mention transgressive, given the literary world’s consolidating conservatism. The result is a work of literature that’s beautiful, uncategorizable, sad, and challenging. In other words, a book that’s very near life itself.
Some of the most moving pages of this book are about Nancy Lanza, the mother of the shooter who in eight minutes killed 26 children and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 ... She was his first murder victim. Brooks pays attention to melancholy ironies like this. She doesn’t try to explain them or even tie them together. She just asks the reader to remember and to sit with the sadness ... In each of her brief 'pure acts of attention,' Brooks is paying her respects to fleeting but meaningful episodes in our history, pushing back against our culture’s waves of forgetting ... By preserving the capacity to be surprised, she concludes, we may be more open to keeping memory alive. With her caring but purposively unmoored essays, she has done just this.
Before apps like Pinterest, there were scrapbooks. That's the format that comes to mind when considering the blend of political and social commentary and memoir that is Colette Brooks's idiosyncratic and evocative Trapped in the Present Tense ... Penetrating and poignant ... In both content and format, Trapped in the Present Tense is a book that's well suited to this age of short and fragmented attention spans. Readers receptive to Colette Brooks's preoccupations will find much that's informative and moving here ... Cogent.
Brooks revisits shocking historical events such as this to explore how they shape the questions we ask and impact us on both personal and collective levels. Her careful handling of details thrusts readers into the past ... Brooks ruminates upon the past while reframing events to challenge our present perceptions of what matters most when we look back and formulate life lessons. Brooks asserts that the human story should never be overlooked. This is a sophisticated, thoughtful collection that should be read with the kind of care that Brooks instilled into each provocative essay.