Nicholas John-Francis Claro

BLOOMLAND

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BLOOMLAND BY JOHN ENGLEHARDT

An apposite novel echoing the current state of America—where mass shootings have become more American than apple pie—John Englehardt’s tremendously affecting debut, Bloomland, explores one such horrific event. When Eli, an increasingly misanthropic student eventually reaches a point of no return, he unleashes the full potential of an assault rifle on his peers in a university library during finals week, leaving twelve people dead. 

Delivered in revolving accounts in the immediacy intrinsic of the second-person viewpoint by a first-person narrator, who lies always somewhere on the periphery, Bloomland provides the impetus of, and no excuse for, the young-man-turned-domestic-terrorist’s cowardly act of violence. The novel follows Eli’s existence before and after the shooting, along with the lives of Rose, a teenage woman attempting to camouflage her past while away at college, and Eddie, a young professor who loses his wife in the massacre. The pages of Bloomland are graced with empathy and anger; confusion alongside profoundly powerful insight and understanding of the post-traumatic psyche: “You can’t see all the votaried windows. How the red geraniums in front of our houses will no longer just be red geraniums, but ones that exist in a new world, where even a color carries with it a memory of pain,”  

Gorgeously written, intrepid by design, and deeply disconcerting in its authenticity, Bloomland is a remarkable achievement and stands out as an incredibly important novel of our time.

Dzanc Books.

—Review by Nicholas John-Francis Claro

ALL THE FIERCE TETHERS

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ALL THE FIERCE TETHERS BY LIA PURPURA

Each page of Lia Purpura’s newest essay collection, All the Fierce Tethers, demonstrates what happens when life itself is scrutinized beneath the lens of a proverbial microscope. With the revelatory combination of Purpura’s detail-oriented eye and imagination, she is able to cast a brilliant, transformative light on even the most quotidian aspects: a tin that once held mints “[c]ould be put to good use and serve again, holding buttons, coins, pills;” the dollar bills used at the grocery store can evoke a wonder of their previous purchases, the possible “bribes they sealed, drugs scored;” and when a hawk dives into grass and emerges again with a mouse, she meditates on the blood from the kill. The “sun falls on the spot where I know the blood is. Someone climbing this tree on a bright day in fall wouldn’t notice a thing, the red long gone to shadow or moss.” Purpura examines this predator/prey relationship: “the piercing and tearing was urgent and bloody, and—no proper animal would think to note this—there was no anger, waste, or meanness.” She guides the reader in this illuminative way, covering a vast and eclectic range of subjects, from prayer to irony, beauty, even to the once peaceful, now extinct Dodo.

All the Fierce Tethers is both a marvel of language and a treatise on our taking the time to stop, look around, and pay attention to our surroundings and, concurrently, to acknowledge the interconnectedness of life and its objects. Written in vibrant, luxurious prose, Purpura leaves her readers looking at the world in a distinct and more vibrant way.

Sarabande Books.

—Review by Nicholas John-Francis Claro

HONEY IN THE CARCASE

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HONEY IN THE CARCASE BY JOSIP NOVAKOVICH

In his newest collection of short prose, Josip Novakovich takes the reader on unexpected and familiar journeys: from hitchhiking through the American heartland; to one man’s modification of his body to procure a near-perfect likeness to a sibling rival, in the arena of love; and a war-torn eastern European village, where bombs drop as frequently as rain, and one resident, teetering on the edge of losing everything, just wants to be reunited with his beloved bees. Novakovich’s stories are rife with brilliant and keen observations. His unique brand of moral exploration and honed wit is often coupled with horrendous acts of violence, appearing and concluding as quick as light glints off the edge of a blade. These drastic shifts from the lighthearted to disturbing (sometimes in the physical sense, other times in the cerebral), while they shock and surprise, are an inevitable and necessary driving force behind his 14 stories that provide the reader with characters plucked from everyday life and demonstrate the breadth and elasticity of Novakovich’s ability as a master storyteller. Reading each of the stories in Honey in the Carcase is like traveling a winding country highway at night, taking in what the headlights shine upon, never certain of what they will illuminate around the next turn.

Dzanc Books.

—Review by Nicholas John-Francis Claro

POSO WELLS

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POSO WELLS BY GABRIELA ALEMÁN, TRANSLATED BY DICK CLUSTER

Making her debut in the English language, Gabriela Alemán’s Poso Wells (translated from the Spanish by Dick Cluster) is a darkly comedic, wildly energetic, and relentlessly intrepid bricolage of genres whose narration expertly cycles a unique roster of characters. Although not found on any map, since “The last time anyone did a topographical survey, that huge mass of mud dredged from the estuary was still part of the river,” the Cooperative of Poso Wells transforms into a boisterous political battleground every election season. And, why is that? Simple: from the hope of potentially tapping its well of “Hundreds of thousands of votes,” through empty promises and the distribution of false hope. During one campaign, a histrionic presidential frontrunner and his elite are all electrocuted on stage, leaving only Vinueza, his remaining competitor in the race for the presidency, alive—though moments after the tragedy, he mysteriously vanishes. Vinueza isn’t the only person missing from Poso Wells—women routinely disappear. When the fervent columnist Gonzolo Varas catches wind of this, he sets out to uncover the truth. The story unfolds from here peppered with rambunctious, insightful, and poetic dialogue. Alemán blurs the typical lines of story, allowing Poso Wells a far reach to captivate a broad audience, and without a doubt, it will.

City Lights.

—Review by Nicholas John-Francis Claro