Review: Somewhere Near Defiance by Jeff Gundy

By Daniel Shank Cruz

somewhereneardefianceIn Somewhere Near Defiance, his sixth full-length collection of poems, Jeff Gundy is at the top of his game. The book revisits Gundy’s usual catalog of subjects — small-town life in the Midwest, nature, Mennonites, being on the road, and so on — but these themes remain fresh under his deft touch. Like two of his poetic influences, William Blake and Walt Whitman (who each appear in several poems), Gundy is a poet of the people in that his poems examine everyday life in a way that elevates it to the sublime. One of the book’s early poems, “Having It All Four Ways,” is written as a catechism, inspiring the desire to read it reverently, as one would whisper a prayer during morning devotions, but focuses on the holiness of fleshly being: “[s]weat, chocolate, lust, and fire” (23). The parallel emphasis on the earthly and the divine is present throughout this collection as an argument that the two are much more closely related than is often assumed. Read More

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

By Diego Báez

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tartDonna Tartt has turned out a single novel every decade, starting with her bestselling debut, The Secret History (1992), a semi-autobiographical “murder mystery in reverse” about students at a small private school in Vermont. The Little Friend (2002) followed and fixes its focus on the suspenseful, Mississippi-based story of 12-year-old Hattie’s extended family and Southern life at large. The Goldfinch (2013) follows thirteen-year-old Theo Decker, who loses his mother when an explosion destroys an entire wing of an art museum in New York City. Theo’s estranged father reappears and absconds with the boy, removing him to the desert wastes of Las Vegas. Over the course of his drawn-out adventure, Theo finds himself inextricably linked to the novel’s eponymous masterpiece and its role in the underground art market. Read More

Review: It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris by Patricia Engel

By Caitlin Callaghan

engle-itsnotlove_1“He just wanted to live his dream of dying in Paris.” So says one of the new housemates of Leticia “Lita” del Cielo on her first morning as a new tenant in the House of Stars, a run-down mansion on the Left Bank in which well-moneyed—or “green-blooded”—young women board year by year. The man under discussion is an American who flew to Paris for the sole purpose of his suicide, and it is through this conversational topic that both Lita and the reader meet the young women with whom she will live during the next several months.  We are less than twenty pages into Patricia Engel’s first novel, It’s Not Love, It’s Just Paris, and the American’s death is the second one to bear mention. The first was Princess Diana, who died in that infamous tunnel crash under Paris as Lita was flying from Newark to the City of Light to begin her year abroad. As we soon learn, love and death are both present in the House of Stars.    Read More

Review: This Is Between Us by Kevin Sampsell

By Nancy Smith

ThisisbetweenusOnly a few paragraphs into This Is Between Us, it becomes clear that this is an intimate portrait of a relationship. A narrator speaks, perhaps confesses, directly to his lover of five years, and we get to peek inside the everyday details of this romance. The book is divided in five sections, marked chronologically by time. Early in Year One, our narrator says, “On just our second real date, we started talking about what our life would be like together. We talked about houses, cars, dreams, our kids, and our friends. Then we reluctantly talked about honesty, as if we weren’t really sure what it meant.” And this—the talk of a life lived together—is exactly what unfolds over the course of this lovely, understated novel. Read More