BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
1. Annihilation Songs (Stalking Horse Press, 2016) - Jason De Boer
In Anniliation Songs, DeBoer experiments and rewrites Shakepeare's The Tempest, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and Hamlet. Using only the words contained within each original play, DeBoer weaved the words into new short stories. It's a fascinating book, and one that should be read on a day inside with hot cocoa. My personal story favorite: "The Execution of the Sun"; here's an excerpt of the story:
"Time was eating his youth, so with little more than a nod, Speed parted from his wife. Slender, forlorn, fingering her gold ring. The train moved forward impatiently, ignorant of loss. Travel vanquished their marriage like so many before. There was engine noise. A whirlwind. The departure of faces. The wife suffered away, a jewel worth nothing."
2. Sunshine State: Essays (Harper Perennial, 2017) - Sarah Gerard
In Sarah Gerard's second book, she writes about her experiences growing up along Florida’s gulf coast through a series of poignant and compelling essays that explore class economics, sexuality, addiction, religion, homelessness, and incarceration. For me, personally, I loved her stories "BFF" and "Records." Here's an excerpt of "Records":
"Standing outside the theater later that night, I learn he's dating a new girl. She's currently in prison. They were arrested together for trafficking cocaine, and she took a fall for him because he's still on probation for his last arrest. He hadn't asked her to do that. His guilt is overwhelming. He gazes across the streetlamp-list parking lot, shaking his head."
3. Leaving Lucy Pear (Viking, 2016) - Anna Solomon
Anna Solomon's novel is a powerful story of two women in Prohibition Era New England whose worlds intersect over the care and concern of a child. You can read an interview with her about the book here:
"As a child, we had these pear trees down below our house. Every year the fruit would all disappear. We never knew where it went. So that always stayed with me.
Then, a few years ago, my stepfather, who reads a lot of history books, gave me “The Sage of Cape Ann,” which is a very dramatic telling of things that weren’t necessarily dramatic about Cape Ann—which is where I grew up, in Gloucester, MA. In it, I found a section about this wealthy Bostonian woman who was summering on Cape Ann and suffering from a nervous disorder, and because she had connections with the navy, she had requested that the whistle buoy, which had been installed off the coast to warn fishermen and to keep sailors safe, be removed. Which I found fascinating.
Then there was an addendum that said, The next year it was recorded that Mrs. So and So had gotten married and therefore was feeling much better so that the whistle buoy could be put back in. I found that compelling, both the nervous disorder and that the marriage “made it better.” On the plot level—what if, when the whistle buoy was taken out, something happened? What if there was a consequence to it? It’s hard to say exactly how that came together with the pears because that part of the process is always mysterious, but the stories started forming."
4. Dear Everyone (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016) - Matt Shears
Shears writes a magnificent book of poetry that overwhelms the reader, while also gripping in the best possible sense. It's a dialogue between speaker and reader, between the public and private self. The book is one long poem with a collective voice, which is done well with lists, addresses, and an absurdist, dark sense of humor. Here is an excerpt:
5. Lunch Portraits (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016) - Debora Kuan
These poems are raw and delicious, like an apple from an alien planet. Kuan writes poems about ordinary experiences, about the emptiness and culture of American life, through cats, selfies and more. Some poems are portraitures of sorts, and in the poems, we can all find ourselves, just as the speaker is trying to. Here is one of the poems:
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (2016, ELJ Publications) & Xenos (2016, Agape Editions). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the managing editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms and Luna Luna Magazine. Some of her writing has appeared in Prelude, BUST, The Atlas Review, The Feminist Wire, The Huffington Post, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets.