Homefront by Kristen J. Tsetsi
If there’s a war on (and, these days, there’s usually a war on), I want to be reading about it. I appreciate first person accounts, either fictionalized or not, and Kristen Tsetsi’s Homefront, an emotional novel about a young married couple’s separation when husband Jake is shipped to Iraq, is a worthy new entry in this category.
What I like about this book is the narrator’s stark voice, fervently moody and explosive as she hunts for news of her faraway husband and interacts crankily with others in the military-base community that is her home. Tsetsi knows how to write gripping paragraphs:
Janis Joplin says there is no tomorrow, that staying up all night means today never ends, so while Jake sleeps, I sit at the kitchen table and listen to the helicopters flying the pattern. Listen to the artillery exploding at the weapons range on post, five, six miles away. I open the window, smell the snow, listen to the cars on the main road, trucks wheezing up the hill, bass rattling in the window-tinted Lincoln that rolls down our street every night at eleven sharp.
Some minor complaints: I wish Tsetsi put more effort into describing the external features of her environment as well as she describes the human interactions. Also, the book’s packaging is undistinguished, particularly a greeting-card-like cover photograph that doesn’t really capture the depth of the words within.
Continue or not? Yes. I want to know what will happen to these characters, which is the best reason to continue any novel.
Maryland-based poet Alan King writes appealing free verse with a rich range of reference and a lively bounce:
the smell of wings and thighs
drenched in Tabasco, wafting
through plastic bags, both of us soaked
where we reached your front door
where i remember your mouth
a moth orchid opened in a sun
shower when you tilted your head back
and caught cloudburst on your tongue
while fumbling for keys
i remember wanting to put our food
in the fridge, love you to a monsoon
resonating off the panes, make you
my only consumption and catch
every vowel coming from your mouth
Continue or not? Well, this chapbook is a good browse, but I may take a cue from the author’s numerous MySpace links and just check his poetry pages there instead.
Lives and Legends: William Faulkner by Carolyn Porter
I’m not a huge William Faulkner fan — I sometimes wonder if he’s partly to blame for Cormac McCarthy — but I’m curious enough about what motivated the Bard of Mississippi to check out the first few pages, and I like the biographer’s pointed opening, in which she dives right into a strange, jokey autobiographical blurb Faulkner wrote in mid-career and spins off a number of surprising observations about the way Faulkner (who was born William Falkner) consciously invented his public image.
I like a biography that opens strong. Too many literary bios begin with breathless flash-forwards to their subjects’ peak moments — “as Fyodor Dostoevsky turned to face the adoring crowd, tears welled in his eyes” — or with thick, dull recitations of their subjects’ ancient family backgrounds. By getting right to the heart of her book’s basic argument, Porter captivates me beyond my expectations.
Continue or not? Yeah, I’m hooked, but I doubt I’ll make it to the end.
The Beat Face of God by Stephen D. Edington
When I was a kid I used to enjoy a book called The Gospel According to Peanuts. That book was written by a preacher, and so was The Beat Face of God (Steve Edington is a Unitarian minister). I’ve met Steve at many Jack Kerouac-related events, and I know he knows his stuff. It’s not hard to find the spirituality in Beat Generation literature (religion pretty much abounded in the writings of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, Snyder, McClure et. al.) and Steve Edington’s introduction will inspire many readers looking for another viewpoint on the Beat legend.
Continue or not? I enjoyed a quick browse and may spend time with it again.
That’s it for the July book notices, folks. I wish I could have covered even half of the books I received in the mail, but I did my best. I especially regret having to skip many poetry chapbooks, because I just can’t do them justice. Maybe Action Poetry is a better bet.