cover image Normal Distance

Normal Distance

Elisa Gabbert. Soft Skull, $16.95 trade paper (112p) ISBN 978-1-59376-733-4

Questions about time, philosophy, language, and the significance of human emotions color the funny and perceptive fifth collection from Gabbert (The Word Pretty). Pithy insights read like aphorisms with an edge, such as “Happiness is suffering for the right reasons.” In one poem, Gabbert pontificates on the nature of boredom with an associative series of thoughts that range from relatively straightforward (“How bored are dogs?”) to complex, arguing that some artists use tedium to enhance their work (“Kubrick movies are often great while also boring.”). Elsewhere, Gabbert contemplates “Paris syndrome,” which is “a state of ‘extreme shock’ experienced by travelers forced to reconcile Paris-in-reality with their expectations,” amid a discussion of death and grief, adding further layers to her examination of suffering as intrinsically human and impossible to separate from joy. There is an idiosyncratic logic to Gabbert’s musings (“Eye pain feels inherently emotional. The way odd numbers feel more random”) that is engaging and accessible to all readers. The humorous, aphoristic quality of Gabbert’s self-examination will charm those seeking a bright, contemporary voice. (Sept.)