Book Reviews

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  • The Much-Needed Grime Your Mother Warns You Of: A Review of Poison and Antidote: Bohemian Stories by Lee Foust (Authorhouse, 2015)

    By Cody Lee, Reviews Editor

    This foggy, angst-riddled delve into the underbelly of ’80s San Francisco acts as a sedative for those arty-farty solipsists who think that they’re the only ones to feel heartbreak, and the ongoing excruciation of life: you’re not alone . . . well, you are, but so is everyone else, really.

    Poison and Antidote: Bohemian Stories by Lee Foust intertwines nine stories, all of which resemble the lives of your local waitresses, meth-mouthed pseudo-rockers, and performance artists who drink blood from crystal chalices.

    Foust jumps between first and third person, and even switches the characters that speak in first person, which can come off as confusing at times (I’m still trying to figure out who’s speaking in the last chapter . . . I have my bets on a fellow named Lee (Ding! Ding! The author’s name!) but I’m still not 100% certain; my book’s marked up with two too many arrows pointing to names, and strikethroughs), but that’s the excitement in the adventure: by reading, and peeking into the thoughts of these unsure young adults, I became a part of the story, too, wandering around the hookered, and unencumbered streets of California for a moment, only to put the book down and return to reality: the world of classwork, work-work, and sleep/repeat.

    It’s evident that this novel’s a byproduct of Foust sitting down in front of his computer, opening up Microsoft Word and spilling out the beautiful (and sometimes oddball) workings of his hyper-inventive mind. This comes across in Poison and Antidote’s anarchic content, and structure, too; Foust chooses to incorporate a movie script; he chops up select chapters into italicized, page-long preludes—typically composed of surreal dreamscapes (e.g. “In this crowd I grow two more faces—I’m surrounded) and old-bearded-man-glued-to-a-rocking-chair wisdom (e.g. “Remember, everything has the potential to be the most painful thing that you’ve ever felt, but the numbness you force on yourself in its place will rob you of even that”).

    Poison and Antidote is filled with quotables, and I can go on for pages, but rather, I highly recommend that you, personally, read this über-observant, and visceral look at Foust’s San Fran: the land of the free, and the home of Dead Kennedys.

    Similar Works:

    Literature: American Skin by Don de Grazia

    Film: Trainspotting directed by Danny Boyle (or the novel by Irvine Welsh)

    Etc.: “Bite It You Scum” by GG Allin

  • Talk Linguistically to Me: A Review of The Kingdom of Speech (Little, Brown, and Company, 2016) by Tom Wolfe

    By Will Horner, Contributing Editor

    Aha! seems to be Tom Wolfe’s archetypical cry in understanding the basis of the world, how and where we fit in it. Following many of the tropes seen in The Painted Word, Wolfe turns from art theory to evolution in The Kingdom of Speech, focusing again on the fabled, no-way-around-it word, or in this case speech, a most-esteemed factor in how humans developed separate from the world of plants and animals. While it may not be as trendy a topic as gallivanting hippies or adrenaline-happy rocket jockeys, the reader is slung around in space-time for Wolfe to come upon the reason, the real reason we talk and how it shapes us from on the branches to below the street lamps.

    The essential thing that drives the book is the understanding of everything, the encompassing theory of all theories, the origin of the species. Like in his book on art criticism, The Painted Word, Wolfe includes himself very much into the story, which he evades in his more notable works like The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test or The Right Stuff. Starting with the discovery of nothing by Noam Chomsky and a few other MIT professors, “. . . the origins and evolution of our linguistic capacity remain as mysterious as ever,” to which he replies from the largely used “Aha! to the more archaic, “Ahura!” Wolfe begins to construct an argument, beginning in the 1800s, with Charles Darwin, cozy in his stuffy hypochondria in London, and his relationship with Alfred Wallace (who’s that?), a then-contemporary naturalist, in the mud, living amongst nature, competing for the pedestal for their scientific findings. Wolfe notes Wallace’s attempts and snubs from the Linnean Society, an academic biological society, to present what essentially becomes Darwin’s argument. The reader follows Darwin in his attempts at Everything, largely resting on the realm of language, how speech reflects the world and us in it.

    Fast-forward to the 1950s: Noam Chomsky, the prodigy thinker, the law of the land of linguistics. Chomsky presents his law of recurrence, which explains the brain’s mythical language center for “universal grammar,” only to come across another rival, marking about in the Amazon. Daniel Everett (come again?), a contemporary to Chomsky, then unhinges Chomsky’s theory by simply saying, “This group of people over here, the Pirahã, they don’t follow this universal theory, Chomsters. They don’t even have a grasp of the future or the past, only the now, the now!”

    Only by Wolfe’s perseverance in looking at these two bloodless conflicts does he come to his own conclusion that speech is “a mnemonic system,” a way for us to pattern our speech pattern, to remember, to organize, to pull from nature the invisible to make artifacts out of. “Speech,” Wolfe states, “and only speech, gives the human beast the ability to make plans . . . not just long-term plans, but any plans, even for something to do in five minutes.” Speech also gives us the ability to tell time, to measure, to build, to investigate, to express, to create. What Wolfe gives us is the keys to understanding, or at least a lock pick for our eyes to see what line divides the microcosms of biology and even the general macrocosm of Earth. It’s the problem we’ve been largely expediting to religion, whether we are made or we just are, whether we have free will or not, dualist versus dialectic thought. This heavily-researched yet short book is a blanket-explanation of what academics have been turning in bed for, why speech is so fundamental in our lives.

    It’s definitely a book to pass along to friends, but moreso for the topic and its presentation. Wolfe has a great intuition in research and stringing along occurrences in history, and showing us something that we didn’t know, delving into a world that we as a general public probably thought was settled. The reader is left with not an open-ended question but a way of thinking of their own collected cell-cess pool that we call the body, that we call human.


    William Horner is a continuing senior at Columbia College Chicago. He has no job, no wife/husband/pet or a shitty jay nay say quay. He eats too much and hasn’t been published. What a maroon.

  • Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2014)

    By Karina Corona

    Haruki Murakami is a man of incredible talent. With 19 titles and translated into 50 languages, this Japanese writer is considered by some to be one of the leaders in postmodern literature. 

    As a twenty-something college student living in a major U.S. city, I already know what you’re thinking dear reader. You’re thinking, "Murakami? Is this another review on Norwegian Wood?" To this, I have the following to say: um, Norwegian Wood is a wonderful book that deals with the many dimensions of personal trauma and recovery and no, this review is actually on Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.  

    Right from the first line, Murakami captures the reader and pulls them into the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a 36-year-old railroad engineer living in Tokyo. Following a traumatic event that took place during his sophomore year in college, Tsukuru is left emotionally crippled and exiled from the only friends he’s ever known. With nothing but the thought of dying keeping him company, Tsukuru almost reaches the point of no return before deciding to revisit his past and get an answer to the question which left him restless for nearly 16 years: Why? 

    The wonder of Murakami's writing is in the detail of his characters. For example, Tsukuru translates to “to make or build” and his surname, Tazaki, contains no color or symbol which sets him apart from the group of friends he is later exiled from as all of their sur names contain sort of relation to a specific color—a detail that is unrelated to his exile, yet meaningful nonetheless. In addition to the classic Murakami style, there is a mysterious character involved and a plot twist even sharper than his character development. 

    While some may argue that each Murakami novel is alike, I will argue that that very thing is the beauty behind his writing. To take a story and mold it in a way that is consistent and universal but still keep true to the individuality of the story and its characters is what keeps me and the millions of other Murakami readers coming back for more.   

  • My Only Wife, by Jac Jemc (Dzanc Books, 2012)

    By Jennifer Bostrom

    It’s a quick read that demands patience and fond visits. It demands to be left within reach, to be randomly flipped through, and enjoyed for only a moment. It demands to be read in one stretch, pouring over quirks and secrets. My Only Wife (Dzanc Books, 2012) demands attention. Written by Jac Jemc (These Strangers She’d Invited In, 2010; A Different Bed Every Time, 2014), a Chicago-based writer, My Only Wife explores the pains, pitfalls, and pulchritude of a marriage from its beginnings to its damnation.

    In postmortem of his marriage a husband falls in and out of love with his wife as her quirks shift into eccentricities. To quote Kundera, “Love begins with a metaphor. Which is to say, love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory,” Jemc captures this notion to the very letter through the eyes of the husband; He is a man in love, a man infatuated, a man who understands his wife with perfect clarity and blinding befuddlement. “My wife was the start of me. If someone were to ask how I had changed since I met her I would be unable to find the words. It wasn’t that I changed because of knowing her. It’s more accurate to say that I began.” 

    Though they are never named, the man and wife are outlined through a series of idiosyncratic vignettes, each one more lovely and disheartening than the next. While it could have been a hindrance, Jemc deftly handles the lack of titles by making tangible the severity of the husband’s loss through his repeated mantra, “my wife.” 

    “My wife was a clumsy acquaintance who lumbered through days.”

    “My wife wore trousers . . . She filled her clothes the way one fills one’s skin: exactly.”

    “She was my only wife and I accepted her for all that she was, all quirks, all inconsistencies and unexpected preferences.”

    The wife in question has one habit in particular that begins as endearing and quickly turns isolating. She records stories. After talking to strangers, she returns to her home every night and records stories that no one hears, stories that she hides way in her closet—a closet she keeps locked, only showing her husband once when they move in together.

    “‘Can I see the closet again?’ I asked, at five years.

    ‘You know better,’ she said, locking it behind her and struggling to reattach the bracelet to her wrist, key dangling. 

    ‘Why not?’

    ‘That was a one-time thing. I told you that. You understood. That’s the end.’ She wasn’t amused. . . .

    She was a bit bewildered by my stubbornness. ‘That closet is mine, and I get one thing that is only mine. No, you can’t look inside.’”

    Her husband is tethered to her uniqueness from the very beginning, but the quirky woman who so hauntingly captures her husband’s heart is off-putting as much as she is beautiful, a train wreck demanding attention. His wife is an affable, irascible despot, moving from inclusivity and intimacy to independence and indifferent cynicism at the drop of a hat, leaving a sense of whiplash in her wake.

    Jac Jemc wrestles the demons of love and loss in a sketch of two people fighting inevitability. Their “love begins at the point when a woman enters her first word into our poetic memory.”


    Jennifer Bostrom is a BA Honors Fiction Graduate from Columbia College Chicago, Academic Excellence scholarship recipient (2013-2016), Production Editor of CCC’s award-winning Hair Trigger anthology, and former contributer for HYPERtext MagazineJennifer's fiction can be found at The Copperfield Review and Habitat Magazine or on her website jcbostrom.com.