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What We’re Reading
Matthew Dickman (Poetry Editor): I have been reading Greta Wrolstad’s (1981-2005) posthumously published book of poems “Night is Simply a Shadow” (Tavern Books, 2013). This is an exciting collection of lyric narratives that engage in our physical world and illuminate our inner world: “Across the river/ a man weaves along the ties, his mouth gathered as if whistling./ It would be enough for his voice to reach me”. With this collection we are lucky that Wrolstad’s voice has reached us.
Desiree Andrews (Assistant Editor, Tin House magazine): Last week Lance, on his way to Powell’s, asked if anyone wanted anything. I gave him some money and two criteria: 1. Something under ten dollars. 2. Something I would like. He came back with two books Danilo Kiš’s Early Sorrows and Out by Natsuo Kirino. I started Early Sorrows immediately and was transfixed from the start. Taking into account my inclination toward all things Eastern European, I was bound to like this book. Told with sweet nostalgia yet weighted by the shadow of World War II and Auschwitz, this collection of linked short stories goes beyond its time and place. The prose is both lyrical and stark in ways that make it easy to read in one sitting but, by the end, you want to restart it all over again. It’s pretty clear that Lance got this one right. As for the Out, the Japanese murder mystery? I’ll get back to you on that.
Jakob Vala (Graphic Designer): The last time I wandered through Powell’s, I was set on finding a book of heartbreaking prose full of violence, tragedy, and romance. Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night delivers all three with a fierce economy. At the start of the novel, seventeen year-old Henry falls for Mercy, a girl whose powerful family disapproves of their affair. The couple runs away to New Orleans where they relish in hedonistic freedom until an act of violence forces Mercy back to her family.
Henry is left broken by the encounter, literally and figuratively. To escape, he joins the Marines and finds himself in the midst of the Korean War. Olmstead’s depiction of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir is brutal. More unsettling than the expected bloodshed are the uneasy moments between firefights, the unrelenting cold, and the despair of a young man who both longs for and fears his inevitable return home.
It is Henry’s return that solidifies The Coldest Night as a great novel. In less capable hands, the concluding section would feel sentimental. But the restlessness instilled in Olmstead’s characters grounds them to more pragmatic realities.
Heather Hartley (Paris Editor): So far, it’s been an Apollinaire kind of week, and in these past days it’s been his Bestiary: Or the Parade of Orpheus published just over a century ago, with stunning, sharp woodcuts by Raoul Dufy to accompany each short poem (with two poems dedicated to Orpheus, whose parade it is anyway.) In the menagerie, there’s The Tortoise, The Rabbit and The Elephant, among others, including The Cat, who throughout fine French poetry often slinks through verses and makes a quiet appearance here: “In my house I want: / A reasonable woman, / A cat passing among the books, / And friends in every season, / Whom I cannot live without.”