Green Lights

by Anonymous

glkmGreen Lights
by Kyle Muntz
Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2014
108 pages / $13.95 buy from Amazon
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To give the reader a dream on paper—that’s what sur-realist writing’s about, and Kyle Muntz’s new novella Green Lights (out 5/5/14 from Civil Coping Mechanisms) does it well. It sits nicely next to Jesse Ball’s Samedi the Deafness, Paul La Farge’sThe Facts of Winter, and Shane Jones’ Light Boxes in my imaginary library of dream-novels.

Green Lights tells its tale with a delicate, simple tongue, so as not to jar the reader from the dream it’s planted in his brain. To compare Lights’ prose with that of Muntz’s previous, denser work (especially VII) is to be reminded of the author’s talent—he’s a writer wielding style to suit his substance, not the other way around. This is art with ideas, albeit ideas that can only truly be expressed via the irrational—the Dream, as Breton called it.

The novella describes an apparently endless neighborhood where the color of the light changes everything—people’s moods, the weather, whether or not the lonely moon can take a vacation in the form of a strange young girl, whether or not ghosts are real, whether or not one is host to a kind of codependent parasitic octopus—all of which bizarre changes are described as if they were—if not normal, at least not surprising, and not without their own kind of dream-logic.

(Which is what I mean by sur-realism: the Dream pasted on top of the Real—think David Lynch, think Bizarro fiction minus the Cronenberg and gross-out horror influence, maybe.)

And these changes are, as I said, all about the color: “I want to talk about color” is our protagonist’s mantra. And though he never seems to get there—the narrative feels like one digression after another (in a good way)—what we have really is a dream-mediation on color. For color is nothing but wavelength—the waves of light we ride on, that determine our fate, our identities. Light may not bestow substance, but it does determine perception, and perception is everything: in one light, the meanest old man in the world (who lives down the street from our narrator) is a simple product of his past; in another, he’s a cannibal hunting children for food; in another, he’s enacting pagan rituals of sacrifice. Everything is in this kind of flux—the moon, the narrator’s maybe-girlfriend, the bipolar-ish inventor called M.

This is a story about what gets into people, what makes us do what we do, what makes us who we are. And it might seem naïve to wonder if it’s all perception, if it’s all a matter of color, but “naïve” is itself a matter of perception.

Sometimes there are questions you can only ask in a dream. And sometimes that’s the only place the answers make sense.

 

5 Points: Boo, The Life of The World’s Cutest Dog

by Rauan Klassnik

boo cover

1) The first thing that blew me away when I returned home from Brooklyn and greedily opened my Boo (which was waiting for me along side biographies of Shakespeare and Jonson) was the sheer Whitmanesque charisma and scintillation of it all: the big-heated spirit, the boundless energy , the Joie-De-Vivre. And yet, also, I was amazed by a stealthy and shrewd persona. A veritable host of personas! But, all in all, loveable. Absolutely loveable.

I had to rub my eyes once or twice, I admit, and scratch my ass, pensively, and then return to the bounties of the book to see if it was all for real. I mean, how could it be ?? … But, Yes! Yes! Yes! … Look, for example,  at how Whitman’s “I lean and loaf at my ease” translates, and upgrades even, so seamlessly, to Boo’s elegant and contemporary “I like to lounge around the house.”

And, delightfully, also, there is something tremendously naughty in the way Boo enchants us with his insouciance. His lazy wisdom. His casual control of self and universe. It is indeed impressive. And quite enchanting. Intoxicating. And heady…..Yes, folks hungry for the “real deal”, Boo is here. And he is a game changer. One for the cannon. Or one, really, round which the cannon rebuilds and redefines itself. Continue reading

On Exactitude in Non-Library Science

by Anonymous

Jones_Non-Library_Cover_WEB-216x350The Non-Library
by Trevor Owen Jones
Punctum Books, 2014
104 pages / open-access (e-book), $11.00 (print) buy from Punctum Books
Rating: 9.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear T.,

Already a few years ago now you composed a correspondence to mark the appearance of Judith Schalansky’s Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot on and Never Will. I return to that correspondence, on the publication of your first book, The Non-Library, because to do so seems to me somehow apposite. That may be the reason I find myself writing to you, to try to understand my sense of just why.

You note, in the last letter’s closing line, that Schalansky’s maps “are, I’m afraid, indeed the territory.” I wonder if it isn’t exactly on that point—or from it, as a point of departure—that the correspondence might, after a fashion, be continued.

Because the map—not to put too fine a point on it—is not the territory. That’s impossible, isn’t it, that the map should be the territory? Or maybe it’s a clue: When—or more to the point: where—might the map in fact be the territory, and what might that suggest about our notion of the impossible?

Judith Balso’s contribution to Pedagogies of Disaster (punctum, 2013) is titled, “To Rely on the Inexistent Impossible.” The inexistent impossible: not the least merit of that phrase is that it renders imperative a clarification of what, precisely, “the impossible” could be said to designate. The impossible is, by definition, what is not possible. It is not possible that what is impossible could exist. And yet it is not at all clear, with respect to the impossible, where existence stands in relation to possibility. There is an existence of the impossible, in the notion of logical impossibility perhaps foremost. But is there not something to the intuition that the impossible, in the strict sense, is inconceivable? When you write of The Non-Library at “the height of the impossible” I wonder whether the impossible perhaps culminates, at its height, in that part of it that does not exist. Even then: What, in the impossible, would be the relation between existence and non-existence? How might one describe, or inscribe, the cartography of the impossible?

That it may not be possible to do so is what I understand Balso’s phrase to imply. And that’s also the sense of the negative in The Non-Library I rely on in reading The Non-Library. That the map of the inexistent impossible may wholly coincide with its territory is what your book might be said to catalogue.

Forgive me for going on at length, but I felt the need to mark that correspondence, however remote.

To you my thanks and my congratulations.

M.

 

Living With a Wild God by Barbara Ehrenreich

by Emily Sproch

9781455501762_custom-710bd13a0cbae3aa14f7cad9b0d0c0402b0305d7-s6-c30Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth about Everything
by Barbara Ehrenreich
Grand Central Publishing, April 2014
256 pages / $23.50  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

The first thing I read about Barbara Ehrenreich’s Living With a Wild God, out last month from Hachette Book Group, was the Amazon blurb. There was no question about whether I would read a book by Ehrenreich (Nickel and DimedBait and Switch); she has already, for my money, proven her inherent cultural worth, despite the fact that I don’t always find her arguments entirely convincing. I turned to the blurb merely to identify the topic of this latest offering, and, since my mind was already made up to buy it, I skimmed. A few phrases jumped out, namely “In middle age, she rediscovered the journal she had kept during her tumultuous adolescence…” and “bringing an older woman’s wry and erudite perspective to a young girl’s impassioned obsession…” Those bits, along with the book’s subtitle (“A Nonbeliever’s Search for the Truth About Everything”), were enough for me to imagine the scope of the entire book, which went something like this: Teenaged Barbara keeps a diary that asks questions like “Is there really a God?” and “Should I go to second base with Steve C. after homecoming?” Older Barbara rereads this sweet, mortifying relic and brings some hard-won, grown-up wisdom to the whole ordeal.

I could not have been more off base (or, perhaps, worse at skimming). Living With a Wild God does include small excerpts from some of Barbara’s papers, but calling them a “diary” would be a real stretch, as would calling Barbara anything as conventional as a “teenager.” Barbara was exceptional (her father claimed to have an IQ of 187, and though she says this “put the rest of us at the level of insects by comparison,” you certainly get the sense that she didn’t fall too far from the tree), and her teenage papers are filled with commentary on things like quantum mechanics and the work of Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche, Tchaikovsky, and Borodin (just to name a few). At the age of 15 or 16, she becomes particularly taken with chemistry, summing up the obsession like this:

I am a supersaturated solution, I’m a filter paper who’s had too much. Chemistry is the last thing I think of at night and at 6:30 AM my first conscious thought is about the occurrence of aluminum. And this is only the introduction to the preface to the beginning of the most elementary chemistry. It’s not blood in my veins, it’s a colloidal suspension.

It struck me as I was reading that adolescent Barbara is a dead ringer for Paloma Josse, the twelve-year-old heroine in Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Both young ladies ask, via their notebooks, “What’s the point of it all?” While the question is common, these two are actually smart enough to take a serious, multi-disciplinary stab at an answer. Both find that answer to be, at least at first, fairly bleak.

One gets the sense, though, that Paloma, despite her suicidal plans, is going to be okay. Structurally, Barbery makes it clear that the child is working her way toward the lonely concierge Renée, and Paloma exhibits just enough childish thinking to lighten the mood. I spent most of Living with a Wild God, however, wanting to give young Barbara a cup of hot chocolate and a big old hug. Her childhood is atrocious. Her parents are hostile alcoholics who value “rationality” above all else, including—it seems—love. With a home life like that, it’s no wonder she became a solipsist at 14.

Ehrenreich’s solipsism is a major part of the book, and something she doesn’t shake until the final chapters. It’s hard at times, with her scary intelligence and such harsh, alienating beliefs, to follow the story the way it’s written—as a linear narrative. There are two major events, though, that serve as markers along the way. The first is the advent of short periods of “disassociation,” where language and meaning are stripped from Barbara’s world and all that’s left is some unnamable essence. The second is a more dramatic occurrence, one of “mystical” proportions, in which “the world flamed into life.” “There were no visions, no prophetic voices or visits by totemic animals, just this blazing everywhere. Something poured into me and I poured out into it.”

Ehrenreich spends the rest of the book trying to prove—mostly from a scientific perspective—how or what that episode was. At no point does she concede to the presence of a God, at least not in a commonly accepted form, so the title is somewhat misleading. She does, however, make an impressive argument in the last chapter (involving microbes of all things) that made me lean in a little closer. Had I read that final chapter as a stand-alone essay, I would have found it intriguing, smart, and satisfying. As a finale to this memoir, it was still all of those things, but the hypothesis was muted by the haunting voice of such a detached young girl.

***

Emily Sproch writes both fiction and non-fiction. Her publications include Caesura,The Awakenings ReviewThe Inquisitive Eater, and the Tin House blog (among others). She holds an M.F.A. from The New School and is a member of the Brooklyn Writers Space. www.emilysproch.com

 

Joseph Riippi’s SUMMER READS

by Janice Lee

joseph_riippi

5 books Joseph Riippi is looking forward to this summer as part of this year’sSummer Reads.

***

MyStruggle_cvrforweb

My Struggle, Volumes I – III by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The series had me at its opening line: “For the heart, life is simple: it beats as long as it can.” I picked up the first two volumes at AWP in Seattle but only just started in and I’m loving the slow-burn reveal of this life. Volume III drops right around Memorial Day, so am hoping to being caught up by then, and then keep going.

w356518

Authority by Jeff Vandermeer

I read a lot of books on buses this spring thanks to a book tour, and Vandermeer’sAnnihilation—the first installment in his Southern Reach Trilogy—was one of my favorites. Its length was perfect for the ride to DC, and I just couldn’t put it down, a kind of understated post-apocalyptic thriller that was more about the characters than the post-apocalyptic landscape. Very excited for Authority, the second volume.

1396039225124

Scout Books Chapbooks by Chelsea Hodson, May-lan Tan, and Jay Ponteri

This is actually three books, but they’re chappys and they come out at the same time from the same place so let’s count them as one. Girly by May-lan Tan, Pity The Animal by Chelsea Hodson, and Darkmouth Strikes Again by Jay Ponteri are the next round of Scout Books from Kevin Sampsell’s Future Tense press, and are sure to be beautiful pocket-fitting objects for the summertime, nice little fistfuls of lit to sip beneath trees or on benches or while sitting under sun and waiting for your second hefeweizen at a beer garden in the early afternoon. (I have very specific plans for these, obviously).

9780713999778H

The Histories, by Herodotus (new translation by Tom Holland)

My wife and I are going to Southeast Asia for the month of June and I won’t have room for much in the way of multiple books, so I’ve decided to bring one big, beefy tome to which I can attach the sentiment of our adventure. Plus, I’ve wanted to get into The Histories ever since first reading about it in The English Patient. The Ondaatje nerd in me is incredibly excited about filling my own Herodotus with receipts and scraps and a great deal of marginalia.

bluets_grande

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

It’s just time.

***

Joseph Riippi’s most recent books are the novel Because and chapbook Puyallup, Washington (an interrogation), with illustrations by Edward Mullany. His next novel,Research: A Novel for Performance, is forthcoming this October from Civil Coping Mechanisms. Visit josephriippi.com.

 

Juliet Escoria’s SUMMER READS

by Janice Lee

juliet_escoria

Juliet Escoria’s summer reads.

***

103Normally Special by xTx

I’ve read a ton of xTx stories online and I really loved Billie the Bull but I hadn’t yet picked up this collection. I read with her last week and I gave her an ELO CD as a present. She gave me this book in return. I was reading it on an airplane earlier today, but in the way that I normally reserve for good poetry, which is reading everything slowly and multiple times. Most of the stories are really short, so it seems like the kind of thing that would be good to read while sitting on the grass in the park but only if you want to feel a lot of feelings.

 

 

indexThe End of the Affair by Graham Greene

I read this last summer and it really stuck with me. This book is incredibly precise in its language and structure, which is something I can really get behind. The ending broke my heart, which is what the endings of all novels should do.

 

 

 

 

photo 4-1Sadmess by Ana Carrete

This is actually a chapbook. If you pick it up and flip through it, you will be drawn in by the cute little pictures and macros. If you start to read it, the poems will seem light and maybe even frivolous, like eating cotton candy, but this is a false sense of security. Ana has this way of stabbing you when you’re least expecting it that makes the pain that much more intense. This book is little and light so I guess you could pull it out of your bag to read while you’re waiting in line to buy cotton candy?

 

 

dangerous-angels-weetzie-bat-books-francesca-lia-block-paperback-cover-art1Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block

I flew through this series as a teenager. I read it a few weeks ago to see if it still held up, and I flew through it that time too. It’s perfect to read if you are secretly a teen girl or are actually a teen girl or just like stories full of magic and heat and punk rock and Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

 

indexWe the Animals by Justin Torres

Summertime is a great time to read stories about underage sexuality and child abuse. The sentences are full of music and jangly edges in a way that makes me jealous.

 

 

 

 

 

***

Juliet Escoria is the author of Black Cloud, which is a collection of stories, videos, and pictures that was published by Civil Coping Mechanisms this past April.

 

Painted Cities by Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski

by Dennis James Sweeney

painted-citiesPainted Cities
by Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewski
McSweeney’s, March 2014
180 pages / $24  Buy from Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painted Cities is the kind of book that gives me hope. This isn’t the best thing I can say; the best books I read take away my hope altogether, blow me away so thoroughly that I can’t imagine ever writing anything that can even appear in the same medium as them. The best books crush me, leave me in awe.

But hope is not the worst thing I can say, either. The stories in Painted Cities are loose and optimistic. As promised by the sticker plastered to the back of the book, they chart a (usually) first-person narrator’s coming of age in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago, where illicit trysts are as likely to happen in the adjacent apartment as shootings are to take place just down the street. The first full story in the collection—it’s preceded by a three-page short, the likes of which are peppered throughout the collection—works in the continuous past, out of scene, for ten pages. The narrator and his sister used to pan for gold in the gutter; they would find 7UP tops and cut their hands on shattered glass. We hear about the neighborhood in an almost endless series of sentences like these, this one describing the parties neighborhood kids had around unscrewed fire hydrants: “From where our pump was, the kids down the block looked like miniature figurines, pet people running about, yapping, like windup toys.” It is only in the final three pages that a nearby apartment building burns down, and the narrator’s family piles into the street to reflect on the ruin that almost seems built in to the tightly-packed Pilsen apartments.

This is what I mean when I say loose. The stories here don’t seem overly concerned about developing a plot. They seem unworkshopped, something that bothered me at first and later, when I thought about it, turned into a virtue. It’s clear that the point of Painted Cities, like its presumable namesake, Calvino’s Invisible Cities, is more the environs than the action that occurs therein. It strikes me as victorious—it gives me hope—that a debut story collection can survive, even thrive, on the sheer, naked power of wonder at the neighborhood the author grew up in.

Some other cases in point. In “Freedom,” the narrator and his newfound friend Buff climb to the top of an old pierogi factory and build a fortress out of scrap wood, imaginatively thriving there until some gangbangers climb up and tear it down. “Maximilian” proposes, “I want to tell you three memories of my cousin Maximilian,” and goes on to do just that. “Blood,” in the guise of a barroom narrator speaking to a second-person listener, riffs on bar etiquette and interpolates events that took place in the bar and the surrounding neighborhood. The five-page “Supernatural” describes the uncanny light that wafts from a polluted river at sundown, and the crowds that are drawn to it.

Even the titles here give off a sort of pleasant naiveté, the possibility that experiences might be reduced to a single salient buzz-word. Of course, the stories’ depiction of a world that is self-consciously less than perfect puts the tongue of titles like “Growing Pains” and “Ice Castles” fairly well in cheek. But still, you see an almost overly earnest impulse in Galaviz-Budziszewski to redeem Pilsen, to make something brighter emerge from its grittiness. At the end of “Blood,” we get:

You got a good friend, that means you do anything for them. That’s being stand-up….A friend’s all you got, they’re family, and once you don’t got family, tell me, motherfucker, what do you got? (128)

At times I’m skeptical. Galaviz-Budziszewski’s biography in the back of the book is self-consciously external not only to the academy many of us are used to but to the publishing world at large. It reads in full:

Alexai Galaviz-Budziszewksi grew up in the Pilsen neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. He has taught in the Chicago public school system and is currently a high school counselor for students with disabilities. In his spare time he builds and repairs motorcycles.

I worry that Galaviz-Budziszewski is trading on his worldliness here, trying too consciously to cultivate a persona that is qualified to speak about the struggles of inner-city life. But when you get the object in your hands, you’ll forgive him quickly.Painted Cities is a beautiful, short book, 180 pages between hardcovers (no dust jacket) that are illustrated wonderfully by Joel Trussel. Galaviz-Budziszewksi is so trusting with his narration, so endearingly willing to pull a thin yarn the length of twelve pages, that you can’t help but like the guy.

And when you get stories like “God’s Country,” the longest in the collection by far at thirty pages, you begin to think that you might be able to do this too. This is where the hope comes in. The story follows a boy who discovers one day that he is able to bring dead creatures back to life. He and his friends spend a summer reviving pigeons, finally bring an OD’d gangbanger back from the beyond.

The end of the story felt like too much to me at first, the kind of sweet wrap-up that a young writer wants to give their stories to cauterize frayed ends. Even today, the retrospective narrator says, when he finds a dead bug in his bathroom he’ll pretend to be his supernaturally powerful friend:

And just for fun I’ll close my eyes, open them, and touch the dead body. I’ll hope that my finger will give life, that I’ll feel again what I felt when I was fourteen, when, in this whole damn neighborhood, among all this concrete, all these apartment buildings, church steeples, and smoke stacks, we were somebody.

But then I let go of my skepticism and let the story be what it is. What is it? A guy remembering what it was like to grow up and wishing, despite the turmoil, that he was still there. That’s something I can appreciate, long string of nostalgic commas or not. And it’s something—this is my favorite part—that I think I might be able to do someday too.

***

Dennis James Sweeney‘s writing appears in recent issues of Word For/WordHarpur PalateUnstuck, and Fjords Review‘s Monthly Flash Fiction. He lives in Corvallis, Oregon. Find him at dennisjamessweeney.com.

 

 

Catalog of ri¢h poets: Jess Dutschmann

by Alexandra Naughton

We’re flossy.

We’re the first poets to scream that we’re hot. We got our face tattooed on their arms. That’s right, we brought all the weird lit to the scene, and that’s right we’re the cats that’s getting the cream.

And it sucks because we want almond milk. Al-mond mi-ilk. Just because we are obtusely wealthy with our words and our pauses and our golden bars and other cliches doesn’t mean we don’t have standards.

Whatever. My thoughts are too expensive for you, anyway.

Another week brings another installment of our ri¢h poets series. Please throw your loose pocket change in the air and welcome Jess Dutschmann.

jess

When Possible

The snake in the road was dead.
When you picked it up it shook
its body shook like dance recitals.

It still and then calm and the also
having breathing. Imagine snake
lungs. In and out thumbnails.

There was a wrong snake. Green
and maybe teeth but not angry.
You picked it up it shook alive.

You killed the snake with your
hands and every day the snake
going killing again. You it killed.

Blood can coagulate did you know
but not this little guy. Just a vine
maybe teeth but not hungry dead.

 

ABOUT THIS POEM 

This poem is about snakes. Snakes, as anyone alive is aware of, are made entirely out of cash money. This poem is about not knowing too much about snakes, which are, as anyone alive is aware of, made entirely out of calcium and borax. This poem is about snakes. Snakes, as everyone knows, are already dead. This poem is about snakes, which the cast of The View drinks for every meal in a steaming hot smoothie, each little elongated hexagon scale flitting through the vitamix, catching light like eyelashes on cheeks.

Jess Dutschmann lives in the castle of every vanquished Disney villain. She bought them on the cheap after the usual fire-pit scene. She is made out of thousands of dollars of medical bills. She prays to sixteen gods nobody has heard of and they rain down golden coins until she blinks upward, both eyes bruised to hell, and grins bloodteeth. SheoOOOOoOOOOOOoooOOOOOOOOO

 

25 Points: 7 Days and Nights in the Desert

by Mg Roberts

.7 Days and Nights in the Desert (Tracing the Origin)
by Sabrina Dalla Valle
Kelsey Street Press, 2013
88 pages / $13.00 buy from Kelsey Street Press

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Sabrina Dalla Valle is an alchemist, a sorceress, scribe.

2. The role of poet as spell-caster/magician/mystic is seen through these pages. If it’s not clear, how can I say this?

3. everything is indication of moisture in a landscape– not just density of species, but also the shape of the earth.

4. How to propagate a landscape?

5. While reading Dalla Valle’s book I recall being ten years old, casting my first spell.

6. Poetry should transmutate; cause a change from one form, nature, substance, or state into another. In other words to transform the temporal existence.

7. as if not yet fully human

8. Meditation requires practice. There’s an alchemy at work here in these lines

9. Reflect upon the nuances of the question of: what gives us life?

10. like filaments

11. writing is read by the dream

12. I ordered feverfew and other herbs from a catalogue and had it shipped via Cash on Delivery (C.O. D.), a service that no longer exists

13. At the skin of your breath is poetry

14.       Photons are their mirror

             photons can change into each other:

             presence into image, image into presence.

             but they can form into mirror planets

             and even mirror stars

15. My mother wrote the mailman a check

16. Poems are the path of veins. There’s a ________________ at work here

17Like poems representing metals

18. Meditation requires practice

19. the principle of combustibility contained within the artist’s line

 

19

 

 

20. has been swelling in my stomach

21. the charge between two words passed back and forth between lovers

22. can touch you

23. can touch

24. embroidered sky

25. If I reach out far enough I can touch that ten-year-old self through the fickle of curved stars

 

Mg Roberts’ bio:

Born in Subic Bay, Philippines, Mg Roberts teaches writing in the San Francisco Bay area.  She is the author of not so, sea (Durga Press, 2014), a Kundiman Fellow, and Kelsey Street Press member. Her work has appeared in the Stanford Journal of Asian American Studies, Bombay Gin, Web Conjunctions, and elsewhere. She’s currently working on an anthology of critical essays on avant-garde writing for/by writers of color.

 

Kill Marguerite and Other Stories

by Anonymous

Kill-Marguerite-Megan-Milks-webKill Marguerite and Other Stories
by Megan Milks
Emergency Press, 2014
240 pages / $15.95 buy from Amazon or Powell’s
Rating: 8.5

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago I was made vaguely aware of a Flavorwire article about trigger warnings. Later on, as I read Kill Marguerite I found myself writing “trigger warning” in red pen before almost every story in the collection. I know that for many the argument for TWs is to save pain and suffering for those who spend day in and day out struggling to avoid triggering material—it’s just common internet courtesy. I very much respect that, but I’m left thinking about how these warnings prevent the dialogue that the content often necessitates.

 

Megan Milks’s stories deal with bulimia, hyper-violent BDSM fantasies, bullying, substance abuse, incest. These stories are, in many cases, hard to read (I want to quote directly but I’m unsure if I should). The violence in the eponymous story as a queen bee strips a hapless nerd naked to humiliate her makes me feel physically ill:

Still reeling from being pushed into the dirt, [Caty] protests and tries clumsily to get up—but Shelly is already kneeling on her shins and Marguerite is straddling her torso, yanking Caty’s shirt up over her face.

“Aww… look at the fat baby’s lumps of lard.” Marguerite jabs Caty’s left breast with a stick.

Caty cries out and tries again to get up. No use. Marguerite prods the other breast, then moves to Caty’s stomach, poking and prodding it with the stick. Caty Whimpers.

This violence pales in comparison to Patty’s sadomasochistic fantasies delivered in explicit detail within the story “Slug,” but what really makes these stories difficult to read are the issues they address because they are essential to talk about.

Megan Milks writes about the unfulfillment of humanity through its attempts at wish fulfillment. In “Kill Marguerite” a chubby tween’s revenge fantasies are seen through an 8-bit video game filter replete with extra lives hidden within frogs and jet packs stashed in high tree branches. “Floaters” (written with Leeyanne Moore) details the toxic relationship between a stand-up comedian and his bulimic girlfriend, which he mines for material (all while tilting the bathroom mirror to watch her vomit and “press[ing] his boner into the edge of the bathroom counter.”) The closet drama “Circe” is a self-aware mish mash of Joyce’s Ulysses, Sylvia Plath, and the Odyssey where Circe turns to Plath who turns to Matilda who turns to shoving a toothbrush down her throat because Ulysses/Ted Hughes/Stephen Dedalus “touched [her] fat stomach.”

Maybe transgressive art is so essential because it is triggering. It causes the audience to be reviled, and then it makes them think about why they’re so disgusted. This is what Milks is doing in her story collection, she’s holding up a mirror to our cultural practices, our unspoken sins, our prejudices. I just fear that this book—which I think is essential reading for the social justice set—will go unread by many because of a fear of the difficult-to-read.