Mid-American Review XXXIII, Number 2: 2013 Book #32


3 of 5 stars

My favorite story in this edition of MAR was “On Brian’s Dreams of Submarines” by Robert Long Foreman, also an honorable mention for their Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award. The narrator’s discovery of a troubling journal of recorded dreams by an old co-worker holds a lot of subtext, and allows for the reader’s imagination to run wild, leaving them to conclude Brian’s motivations behind keeping the journal, why he was having such disturbing dreams and what ultimately led to his departure from work and abandonment of the journal.

All the other stories and poems in this edition were solid and enjoyable to read, but also somewhat forgettable. At the time I was sitting down with the book, I definitely enjoyed myself – but even at the end of the book the earlier stories had already begun to fade.

Booth #5: 2013 Book #31

Booth #5

5 of 5 stars

Booth is everything a literary journal should be, and I found myself loving most of the stories in this particular collection – which is often a rarity when an editor attempts to bring together multiple short-format pieces, let alone pieces that span short fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, lists, interviews, craft essays and a smattering of artwork thrown in. Booth makes this feat look effortless.

A few of my highlights included Scott Williams Woods’ “New York Times Bestsellers” a fictional list of the titular publication in which James Patterson has incorporated Alex Cross into every title and force fit him into every genre. In a landscape where it’s becoming harder and harder for new voices to gain traction against established properties – a future list like this isn’t hard to imagine. I laughed out loud multiple times at several of the descriptions.

“‘Manchild’ Morrison, the Best that Almost Was” hits the opposite end of the spectrum, a tale of high school legends and the decline that seems to always befall them outside the walls of their youth. We look in on the local legend after he’s lost nearly everything, and follow him about town as Porter Shreve builds up to the old team’s reunion at homecoming.

For folks who aren’t sure about lit. journals, Booth is the perfect intro. It does a lot of different things extremely well and can help you find other publications with a more singular focus based on what you enjoyed most.

Beautiful Ruins: 2013 Book #30


4 of 5 stars

This book has quite a bit more meat to it than the cover implies – in fact, if I hadn’t seen a few friends post glowing reviews about the book I probably would have passed it over. My wife bought this in the Anchorage airport to read on the way home, so I was able to borrow it when she was done with it. Usually, I don’t like the decade spanning, multiple character literary tales, but this one hangs together very nicely. For the first half of the book, I did feel like I was only getting tiny slices of a wide cast of characters, but during the 2nd half something seemed to click and I was totally engrossed, finishing the last 150+ pages in a couple days of reading before bed.

The book does feature some pretty prominent names (Richard Burton, Liz Taylor) and gives them some on-page time. This didn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother other reviewers – I’m not sure why personalities like this are off-limits, especially when they take a minor role as they do in Beautiful Ruins.

As a main character, I thought Walter did an exceptionally bang up job with Pasquale, blending the lovable but impotent protagonist in with a rich cast of supporting characters in fresh ways that felt effortless. The tension between different cultures, languages, moral codes and setting all added up to a sum that was greater than its parts. And even though much of the book centers around a “crack in the cliffs,” it’s still Italy – exotic, European and steeped with much more culture than the vapid Los Angeles that other portions of the book take place in.

Red Moon: 2013 Book #29

1 of 5 stars

There’s not a whole lot to write home about in this book. After reading it, I didn’t have a bad taste in my mouth, and I was going to give it two stars, but then I tried to find a redeeming quality or something I liked about the book.

The characters were either pure evil or a half hearted, scattershot attempt at giving them depth. However, my main issue with this book was character motivation. The reasons behind anyone doing anything just don’t hang together – it’s as if the author had loads of ideas for “cool” scenes or themes he wanted to incorporate and then shoved them in. That led to a halting plot with bad pacing, and inconsistent themes and messages. I wasn’t sure if Percy was trying to say something about the current state of extremism and the war on terror and fell short, or if he was just trying to write a badass werewolf book and hobbled it with half-baked commentary. Either way, it didn’t work for me.

The concept was OK, I guess, but poorly executed. Again, I didn’t dislike it after reading it, but after thinking about what I did like I couldn’t come up on anything. Almost as if the book transformed while I wasn’t looking.