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Blue Hanuman

Joan Larkin. Hanging Loose (SPD, dist.), $18 trade paper (78p) ISBN 978-1-934909-38-6

Larkin's first full-length collection since her Audre Lourde Award-winning My Body: New and Selected Poems radiates with control and brevity. Larkin's attractive, enigmatic poems hover near a precipice, electrically charged with nascent tension, a "mute globe of held breath" delicately suspended. Divided into four sections, the poems are short, ekphrastic, or riddle-like explorations of the natural world. "Legs Tipped with Small Claws," the title poem of her 2012 chapbook (Argos Books), describes a fishing spider: dangerous, sexy, and undoubtedly feminine. "Sometimes it's her mate/ she liquefies to drink him inside out,/ then cleans each of her velvet legs." Larkin doesn't rest at mere beauty, she digs deeper, probing at disturbances; the "movement-in-stillness" of an old photograph, or the "lush rage-orange" of a Francis Bacon painting. As for Hanuman, the collections eponymous monkey god: "his blueblack tail flicks upward,/ its dark tip a paintbrush loaded blue." Themes of motherhood are threaded throughout, muddying the boundaries between animal and human concepts of nurture and climaxing in the book's final section of the book. Larkin's haunting lines encapsulate the feeling of reading this collection: "You are inside me now, as inside you/ your mother: your shame-belly born from hers,/ my grief-lungs from yours, eyes of no mercy." (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Interference

Michelle Berry. ECW Press (Legato Publishers Group; U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $18.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-77041-198-2

In her fifth novel, Berry plays literary voyeur, peeling back the polite veneer of the middle-class to expose a chaotic underbelly. Weaving myriad narratives into an impressive whole, the book submits that a community is actually an arena of unfocused fear. Tom, living in a world where "it's rare to even see a wheelchair," worries that a disfigured transient helping bag his leaves is a potential threat. Twelve-year-old Becky is a germaphobe haunted by a boy no one else sees. Claire struggles through cancer recovery while husband Ralph experiences bouts of extreme forgetfulness, hoping that "everything he forgets now…will not matter. Ever." Berry waltzes these and other characters towards a hinted-at climax of danger and resolution, making it clear that paranoia, whether real or imagined, is a core aspect of the human condition, one that we not only cannot avoid but sometimes actively cultivate. Near its end, Claire comes to believe "that this is what cancer does to you, that this is what growing older does to you, that this is what life does to you — it slowly robs you of something to look forward to." Perhaps so, but this novel, with its dark-humoured glimpse behind neighbourhood doors, is something to look forward to. Agent: Chris Bucci, Anne McDermid & Associates. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cloud

Eric McCormack. Penguin Canada, $24 trade paper (424p) ISBN 978-0-14-319128-5

This, McCormack's fifth novel, is his first in 12 years, is worth the wait. The story is told by Harry Steen, a Scottish-Canadian businessman, who retrospectively narrates the events of his life. He recounts his impoverished childhood in a Scottish tenement called the Tollgate, where violence is commonplace and the ground is littered with unexploded bombs left over from the war. While still a young man, Harry leaves the Tollgate to take up a teaching post in Duncairn. It is there that he endures a heartbreak so devastating that he abandons his teaching post and sets off on a series of peripatetic journeys to Africa, Venezuela, and eventually Canada. The novel abounds with colorful grotesques—Harry's miner father, who delights in cracking bleak jokes; Charles Dupont, a French-Canadian doctor who has mended his own broken heart by escaping to tribal Africa. McCormack imbues the novel with a great deal of intertextuality—books within books, abundant epigraphs, and even at one point an amusing nod towards his own bibliography. But the novel's true greatness comes its portrait of Harry, the lovesick traveller and memory artist. Hopefully, we won't have to wait another 12 years for the next McCormack offering. Agent: Ron Eckel, The Cooke Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rain Over Madrid

Andr%C3%A9s Barba, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. Hispabooks (www.hispabooks.com), $15.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-84-942284-7-6

In Barba's collection of four novella-length stories, intense loneliness and desire guide an alienated cast of characters. In "Fatherhood," a Madrid musician recognizes his inability to communicate with his estranged son. In the claustrophobic "Guile," a middle-aged woman is weighed down by memories as she cares for her elderly mother. A young woman's emerging sexuality clashes with her father's womanizing in "Fidelity." And, in "Shopping," a daughter emotionally stunted by the tyranny of her mother recognizes and identifies with the helplessness of an apprehended shoplifter. What isn't said is as important as what is in these poignant depictions of repression and guilt—each of the four stories illuminates the others. With exquisite craftsmanship, Barba captures existential mystery in seemingly banal moments of domestic strife, family tension, and romantic entanglements. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fantomas Versus the Multinational Vampires

Julio Cort%C3%A1zar, trans. from the Spanish by David Kurnick. Semiotext(e), $14.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-58435-134-4

In 1975, after participating in the Second Russell Tribunal's investigation of human rights violations in Latin America, Cortázar (Hopscotch) sits in a train bound for his Paris home, ogling women and reading a Mexican comic book starring a white-masked superman named Fantomas. Little does Cortázar know, however, that he is part of this comic book story—someone has stolen and destroyed the world's books!—and that Fantomas is also part of reality. Soon, phone conversations and comic pages intertwine, and Cortázar finds himself working with other literary greats (Sontag, Paz, Moravia) to aid the masked hero. But the solution isn't as easy as Fantomas predicts, and Cortázar and company begin to suspect that the scoundrels behind the devastation are the very organizations condemned by the Russell Tribunal: multinational corporations and political regimes. Though fairly short, the volume is ceaselessly interesting, alternating between comic book pages (taken from an actual Fantomas comic story), drawings, photographs, and traditional text, and showcasing the late author's penchant for surrealism and experimentation. Simultaneously funny and damning—Cortázar makes sure to include the Russell Tribunal's full report as an appendix—the novella is a quick, engaging read, sure to please the author's many fans. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Lover

Can Xue, trans. from the Chinese by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen . Yale Univ., $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-300-15332-3

The latest mind-bending novel from Xue (Vertical Motion) is about resisting the "invasions of daily life." In the Western nation of Country A, Joe, a clothing company manager, decides to quit his job to read more books. Vincent, Joe's boss, has been neglecting work and his wife, Lisa, to pursue a woman who might be an apparition. Joe's customer Reagan is losing control of himself and his farm after sleeping with one of his workers, Ida. As desire weaves these characters through a city of wet crows, a plantation overrun with snakes, a pastureland infested with wasps, and an island of invisible turtles, they ponder the ties between love, nature, and death. When these threads begin to converge, Joe and his wife, Maria, share a realization that prompts Joe to follow the story east to an ancient country. Layered in symbolism, the majority of the book is spent in an "unusually intense, approximately hallucinatory state." By threading the fable with image patterns and reoccurring onomatopoeias like "weng weng," Xue stitches themes together and succeeds in creating a unique, immersive, tale of "intersecting dreamworlds." It is a challenging work, but readers committed to experimental and innovative fiction will be snared by this mental journey. (July)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Blood of Alexander

Tom Wilde. Forge, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7653-3330-8

In Wilde's unoriginal debut thriller, the wisecracking, James Bond-like lead, Jonathan Blake, has the requisite backstory for his new life as a globe-trotting adventurer. After his participation in a crooked archeological dig sets Blake up for a drug bust and a harsh prison stay, our hero turns to work for the Argo Foundation. The members of this shadowy organization are described as "pirates" who only prey on thieves and looters in order to "make certain whatever treasures [they] recover find a good home." When the latest target is identified as Alexander's lost tomb, Blake sets out on a mission originating in the Parisian catacombs, racing to the hidden treasure before James Vanya—founder and leader of a religious cult known as the Children of Cronus—can get his hands on it first. Other authors of adventure fiction have done a better job using such formulaic elements as a sexy partner, betrayals, and hairs-breadth escapes. Agent: Eleanor Wood, Spectrum Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Matzo Frogs

Sally Rosenthal, illus. by David Sheldon. NewSouth, $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-58838-302-0

In this humorous tale, children learn from an unusual source the meaning of doing a mitzvah, an act of kindness, and the concept of one mitzvah leading to another. When Minnie Feinsilver spills the matzo ball soup she is making for her Shabbat dinner guests, she is distraught because knows she won't have time to cook another batch. A promise to visit a friend will keep her busy all afternoon, so her neighbors, a colony of helpful and lovable frogs, leap in to save the day. Working as a team, Sol Frog, an artist with an adorable beret, and his frog friends, who are "not just any frogs. Jewish frogs" (among them a fashionista and bubbe), find the recipe and use their myriad froggy talents to recreate Minnie's Shabbat soup. Parents can laugh along with their children at the imaginative story by Rosenthal, a debut author and documentary film producer. Sheldon's (Into the Deep) droll and clever images of frogs hopping to the rescue seamlessly complement the text. Ages 4–8. Illustrator's agent: Ronnie Ann Herman, Herman Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Zomburbia

Adam Gallardo. Kensington/KTeen, $9.95 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-1-61773-098-6

In a thought-provoking YA debut, comic book writer Gallardo (100 Girls) looks at a world where the zombie apocalypse forced survivors to abandon the cities and move to the suburbs, where life goes on despite the omnipresent danger of the walking dead. In order to finance her escape from her small Oregon community and go to school where she can study how to cure the zombie plague, Courtney Hart supplements her fast food wages by selling the drug known as Vitamin Z, which lets users experience life as a zombie. Her life then takes some complicated turns when popular jock Brandon develops an interest in her. With his attention and her own drug-dealing alienating her from her friends, Courtney is caught off-guard when tragedies strike, forcing her to find the strength to fight zombies and own up to her mistakes. With its complicated and believable heroine, exploration of moral dilemmas, and disturbingly mundane vision of life among the undead, this action-and-gore-soaked adventure entertains on numerous levels. A sequel is planned. Ages 14–up. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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yolo

Lauren Myracle. Abrams/Amulet, $16.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4197-0871-8

The girls from Myracle's Internet Girls series are starting college and an array of new adventures. Bubbly Angela is pledging a sorority at the University of Georgia, quiet Zoe is trying to keep long-distance love alive at Kenyon College in Ohio, and daring Maddie heads west to UC Santa Cruz, where she makes her longtime best friends promise to "try everything that comes our way, and we won't be afraid, because even tho we're spread out all over the country, we're still here to support each other." Myracle employs the same instant messaging formula of the earlier books, though there are some smart updates, including references to autocorrect and Instagram, and a topical issue as Angela struggles with whether Greek life is for her, especially after stopping a rape at a fraternity Halloween party. Not all the plot points are completely plausible, but these memorable friends remain highly relatable as they share racy details about their lives, call each other out for bad behavior, and are there to help each other "through [a] dark time." Ages 13–up. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/15/2014 | Details & Permalink

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