cover image Suitor


Joshua Rivkin. Red Hen, $16.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-59709-858-8

In part one (titled “Suitors”) of Rivkin’s sharp debut, a long poem in sections cataloguing his mother’s appalling boyfriends, the speaker recalls one priceless specimen who, for Halloween, dressed as a pimp in blackface: “His shoe-polish skin, her fever dress,/ our family on the front lawn.” Another “suitor” sells Amway products from his Buick, imparting sales advice: “He said dream a lot. Dream big!” Still another sleeps on the roof, his benign strangeness invoking a boy’s desperation: “I wanted him to stay.” This direct, moving poem is followed by a long prose meditation on the intent of actions, in which the Nobel Prize–winning scientist Fritz Haber (who invented fertilizers and explosives) is compared to the writer’s father, who abandoned his family in the name of science. While the father’s unpredictable rage and absence were damaging, some love survives: “I don’t call him for advice about relationships. When he dies who will I call when I have a fever? Who will I call when I need advice about jobs? Or home repair? Or money?” Part two is a confessional tale of sexual liaisons with men and women, real or imagined, stoked by pornography, pain, and violence. This strong debut rigorously and restlessly addresses human desire. (Sept.)