Book Reviews

Currently showing posts tagged Fiction

  • 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

  • A Review of Patience by Daniel Clowes

    By Davis R. Blackwell, Social Media Manager

    To what lengths would you travel to save a lost love? This question is what lies underneath the surface of Chicago-born comic book artist Daniel Clowes’ latest graphic novel, Patience (Fantagraphics Books, 2016). A book self-described as, “a cosmic time warp deathtrip to the primordial infinite of everlasting love,” Clowes expounds upon themes of love, loss, despair, obsession, and hyperrealism presented in previous works, while adding sci-fi elements of time travel, ray-guns and parallel timelines into the mix for a book that, although is severely tied to earlier works, stands out as one of his most unique and heartfelt to date.

    The graphic novel begins in 2012, where relatively happily-married Patience and her husband, Jack, discover that Patience is pregnant. This leads to the usual woes of an expecting couple: what clothes should we buy for the baby? Do we make enough money to support this family? Will we be bringing this child into a less-than-acceptable future? One day, after returning home from his less-than-financially-satisfactory job, Jack finds Patience dead on their living room floor, supposedly murdered by an intruder. This leads to a whirlwind year of Jack being prosecuted, tried, and eventually imprisoned for ten months until his name is cleared, due to insufficient evidence. After being released, he conducts his own investigation, leading nowhere. Jump to 2029. There’s clubs with drinks served in scientific beakers, blue women in LeeLoo Dallas-esque attire and “Super-Creeps” in yellow Hulk Hands; this future is not quite Jetsons, no flying cars and floating buildings, but far from A Clockwork Orange. Jack is still severely depressed from Patience’s death and has been living in a self-loathing, obsessive freefall until he finds a man named Barry that has created the ability to time travel, and all hell breaks loose as Jack jumps from 2006 to 1985, and back to 2012, disastrously interacting with past incarnations of pivotal characters, including Patience.  

    Clowes’ exploration in Patience of lost love and the depths we as humans are willing to dive to retrieve retribution is a modification of themes explored in his earlier works, specifically David Boring (Pantheon Books, 2000) and Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron (Fantagraphics Books, 1993). But where Clowes utilizes the main characters of Boring (David Boring) and Velvet (Clay Loudermilk) as mediums for the idea of closure (i.e. Boring searching for a woman he considers his feminine ideal who previously abandoned him, and Loudermilk searching cross-country for his estranged wife after seeing her in a BDSM snuff film), Clowes has progressed to using Jack Barlow as a tool of retribution, a man so obsessed with the loss of his late wife he is willing to travel through space and time itself to avenge her.

    In this journey to find and stop Patience’s killer, he becomes obsessed with attempting to better the lives of past incarnations of Patience, bringing forth several moments of moral ambiguity and complexity throughout Patience that rings true to Clowes’ style. For example, when back in 2006, a middle-aged, time-traveling Jack beats a teenage boy half to death that sexually humiliates Patience. At one point, thinking Patience’s con ex-boyfriend, Adam, was her future killer, Jack goes back to 1985 to when Adam was a child and almost murders him, to which he rationalizes and pontificates:

    I can’t tell you exactly what happened. It sure as hell wasn’t because I couldn’t shoot a baby; nothing like that. One thing about a guy with my perspective—once you know how the story ends, you don’t much give a shit about human potential . . .  And it wasn’t because I might fuck up the future . . . No, it was like some invisible force of nature took over for a second. I wanted to broil that little fucker so bad, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger.

    Though these appear to be terrible deeds on Jack’s behalf, they are carried out with the full intent to continue the life he and Patience had, as well as attempting to make the life she had prior to their meeting and eventual marriage—to which she earlier expresses much disdain for, to the point of never talking about it with Jack—easier, effectively asking the reader the question of, “would you take a life to save the life of a loved one?”

    The hyperrealism at play with the elements of sci-fi of the plot is further pushed through the artwork of Patience. Relatively drab, muted colors and stark line-work are on display in the years of past, while when in the future that level of realism is literally layered over with vibrant colors and rotund figures. It is almost a bit jarring to see Jack with his colorful future technology in Clowes’ visual idea of yesteryear. 

    Daniel Clowes wrestles with ideas of love and loss in Patience, often times forcing the reader to ask themselves questions throughout about the things they would do, the depths they would sink to, and the sacrifices they would make to save a loved one. All the while letting the reader know ultimately no matter what you try, no matter what you do, that some outcomes are inevitable, but that for the ones that are capable of change, that change might not be immediate and often times one must exercise a certain degree of patience.


    Davis R. Blackwell is a Chicago-based author. You can catch him ignoring you on the Red Line eating a six-piece chicken dinner from Harold’s.

  • A Review of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves By Karen Joy Fowler (G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2013)

    By Claire Martin, Interviews Editor

    In the grand scheme of sibling-driven stories in the literary world, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves stands out with an imaginative framework that very few others can boast. Released in 2013 by writer Karen Joy Fowler (The Jane Austen Book Club, Wit’s End) the novel went on to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction in 2014. It continues to gain attention for its stark originality, which earned it a place on the New York Times bestseller list.  

    The Cooke family is brought to life through Rosemary, narrator and daughter of the group. She’s found herself in college at the University of California in Davis where she recounts the quirks of growing up with a family of five in the late 1970s. Her parents, both mild-mannered people, raised their three children in the midst of the academic environment her father worked in. Aside from Rosemary there was Lowell, the oldest son with a radical edge. But most notably there was Fern, the youngest sister and beacon of the bunch. Rosemary recalls Fern being unruly, boisterous, and wildly close to her. Rosemary notes, “Once upon a time there was a family with two daughters, and a mother and father who’d promised to love them both exactly the same,” but as tales of families often conclude, it’s rare that this sentiment is true.

    Following the journey of the two sisters through Rosemary’s hazy memories remains madly captivating, as if each remembrance is the divulgence of a tightly held secret. Fern’s often unpredictable behavior guides Rosemary through her toddler years both in moments of youthful joy, such as winning the attention of the students working for their father, and deep confusion, which comes with Fern relentlessly outperforming Rosemary. However, this is all told under the looming pretense that Fern disappears when Rosemary is only five years old, a pivot that seems to shake the four remaining family members to a place from which no one can recover. But after growing to love Fern deeply and then losing her, Rosemary reveals a plot-splitting piece of information.  

    Fern is a chimpanzee. Her father’s lab adopted a young Fern around the time Rosemary was born, kicking off five years of close watching and experimentation. By the time Fern’s origins are revealed, there is already a vibrant picture of the Cooke family, siblings, parents, scientists and all. There has been an introduction to all of the absurdities and pitfalls of this family, like any other group, so with the presentation of an inter-species sisterhood, it is comically easy to go along with.

    “Though I was only five when she disappeared from my life, I do remember her. I remember her sharply—her smell and touch, scattered images of her face, her ears, her chin, her eyes.” Through repeated moments of immense intimacy, Rosemary’s remembrance brings Fern to life with equal parts delight, fascination, and remorse. They read like a series of foggy instances, each one more gripping than the last.  

    Using a primate, Fowler animates siblinghood with astonishing accuracy and poise. Rosemary aptly comments, “In the phrase ’human being,’ the word ‘being’ is much more important than the word ‘human.’” This novel is an endlessly entertaining look into our own sense of being, our capacity for personal relationships and natural ability to grow close. Reliably funny and unassumingly sweet, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is worth savoring every sentence.


    Claire Martin is studying Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago.  You can find her working on creative essays, wandering through Printer’s Row after hours, and becoming fully nocturnal.

  • A Review of I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

    by Marygrace Shumann, Contributing Editor

    Told from alternating perspectives, I’ll Give You The Sun is a poignant character study on twins Jude and Noah as they deal with the intricacies of self-worth, death, and love.

    Noah’s sections are told before their mother passes away in a car crash. Throughout his sections, Noah begins to having feelings for a boy named Bryan while, at the same time, growing apart from his twin sister, Jude. This sort of cosmic connection that Noah himself describes with, “Unlike most everyone else on earth, from the very first cells of us, we were together, we came here together. This is why no one hardly notices that Jude does most of the talking for both of us, why we can only play piano with all four of our hands on the keyboard and not at all alone, why we can never do Rochambeau because not once in thirteen years have we chosen differently,” is broken as Noah’s love and understanding for art brings him closer to their mother, while Jude (who doesn’t feel her art is as worthy as Noah’s) becomes jealous of their connection. Throughout his sections, Noah is trying to get into a prestigious art school. As he learns more about himself as an artist, Noah begins to draw in his head, allowing the reader to merge the gap between art and artist. He describes his own process saying, “When I draw it, I’m going to make my skin see-through and what you’ll see is that all the animals in the zoo of me have broken out of their cages.” The novel itself breathes like a painting, a sculpture, a sketch. The descriptions are not only vivid, but both lifelike and mystical. Noah’s sections in particular are bursting with imagery that feels unworldly and yet, like a beautiful painting, so anchored to reality. The style Nelson takes allows us to better understand that line between what we feel and what is, which rings particularly true as both Noah and Jude begin to face the harsher realities of life.

    While in Noah’s sections, Jude is belligerent and rebellious, in her own section, years after their mother’s passing, we find Jude to be more reserved. Attending the art school her brother felt was destined for him after she destroyed his application, Jude is filled with an unspeakable guilt. Everything she tries to make is destroyed, Jude believes, by the ghost of her mother. While Noah’s sections are filled with vibrant imagery—emotions described with color, sounds described with scene—Jude’s sections deal closely with her ability to put into words both her own feelings, and the feelings of those around her. Noah paints, but Jude is more concerned with making a sculpture. Throughout her sections, Jude wants to make something solid, something she believes won’t break. This is shown through a more matter-of-fact style of writing. As Jude falls for a boy her brother painted years before, and accidentally becomes the student of the man her mother was having an affair with, Jude begins to understand the lines between forgiving yourself and forgiving others. As she grapples for answers, Jude’s ultimate character growth comes in her ability to let things be, let things break, and let things come back together on their own. “Because who knows?” she says, “Who knows anything? Who knows who's pulling the strings? Or what is? Or how? Who knows if destiny is just how you tell yourself the story of your life?” As Jude finally forgives herself for what she did to her brother, she gives her brother the freedom to confess to her the guilt he feels surrounding their mother’s death. It is this freedom of confession that finally allows Jude to understand the middleground and see things less as a plan to follow through with, and moreso as something messy, the breathing nature of relationships and self.

    Told with a vibrancy and emotional maturation seldomly found in Young Adult fiction, Nelson weaves a haunting and meaningful story about family and self-discovery.


    Marygrace Schumann, lesbian mother of the team, is a senior at Columbia College Chicago studying Fiction Writing. When she’s not writing, it’s all about Cheesie’s and serenading her friends with ’80s music.