Category Archives: Reviews

Sink Review Review… Review

White-Breasted Nut Hatch

Whoa. I think I almost got stuck in a word-repeating infinite loop à la Howard Hughes in The Aviator in my title line… (That was a close one.) So I originally planned to write my online literary journal review on Vinyl Poetry, but I’ve got to admit that I was kind of turned off once I quickly discovered that it in fact had absolutely nothing to do with music at all, even in spite of its rather misleading bluebird emblem. However, while I was scoping it out I just so happened to check out their LINKS page (Good idea: I’ll make a note of it…) and wouldn’t you know it? A certain Sink Review featured there just so happened to catch my eye, along with this completely attractive birdman artwork that I have included here because I just love its Max Ernst vibes. So says I, “Wouldn’t it just be mind-blowing and incredible if an editor of The Kitchen Sink literary review reviewed another, arguably more established literary review that was just called Sink Review?” There’s your infinite loop for you, and now I say just go with it.

Let me just begin by providing some expository information about the format of Sink Review, an apparently biannual literary journal that specializes in poetry in particular. Given the very non-bloggy layout and feel of the website–there’s got to be a better way to put that–it’s hard to believe that Sink Review is “proudly powered” by WordPress, as the page-footer informs us. Personally, the only tipoff that Sink Review is “just another WordPress site” is really only their Làb Nötes page, which fittingly features even some chapbook reviews (including some published by the Ugly Duckling Presse), making the date and comment functions typically associated with blogging I think wholly appropriate in this case. Although we at The Kitchen Sink have already broken ground on our website and have decided to build from HTML scratch, some of the stuff that can be done with prefab templates is actually pretty impressive, as the professional and streamlined design of Sink Review attests.

Along with the tip of the hat to WordPress obligatorily provided at the bottom of every page of Sink Review, the footer also includes another telling tidbit of information that I for one appreciate. The line, “Sink Review uses Modernity” also appears again and again throughout the site, and the word Modernity, as you can see, is underlined with a double meaning. More than just the name of the design theme used on the website, the word Modernity here also includes a little joke about the perhaps out-of-date character of not just Sink Review, but literary journals in general, even if they are only issued online.

And Sink Review is by no means fashioned as a “cutting edge” website, but instead boasts a very homemade and slightly eccentric aura, as though it were hobbled together by someone living in a slightly different dimension and not wholly acquainted with modern technology. Personally, I love the misused and unnecessary symbols used in the linkage, as in the navigation bar through the previously mentioned Làb Nötes anchor (not to mention Pôetry and Masthèad). The inappropriate accent marks also show up in the logo for the journal itself, transcribed there as Sink Reviéw, with a little symbol under the “n” so crazy that I can’t even reproduce it here. Along with the artiness these symbols add to the overall look of the journal, this little design quirk also brings to mind the scrambled nonsense that sometimes appear in connection with broken HTML, only further suggesting the lack of technical know-how on the part of the creators of the website, with just a touch of self-deprecation thrown in for good measure.

The out-of-touch character of Sink Review is also evident in White-Breasted Nut Hatch (pictured above) by artist and bookmaker Joseph Lappie, who created both of the frontispieces on display in SR7, the current issue of the biannual Sink Review. With his almost nineteenth century illustrator’s style–somewhat similar to the illustrations found in historical chapbooks, you might say–and weird but harmless monster subject matter, this image is a dead ringer for the magical realism of particularly Max Ernst, a prominent surrealist of the 1920s. The effect of prominently displaying this and other images like this against an otherwise minimalist and monotonous design layout gives Sink Review, in my opinion, a very modern, but not necessarily contemporary, character. While Lappie’s work appears only in SR7, a perusal of earlier issues of Sink Review indicates that their approach to the selection of display images generally follows the same line of thought, as the similarly old-fashioned sepia-toned photographs featured in SR6 show. On the same note, the taupe-and-gray color scheme is likewise dated, but still very sophisticated, if you ask me. In fact, you just might see this earthy color palette show up in another up-and-coming literary journal in the near future…

This brand of quirky and old-fashioned “modernity” carries over to the actual poetry featured in Sink Review, as well. In his poem 1959, Franklin Bruno provides the reader with an irreverent but still literary how-to for the preparation of processed foods: “Here’s a novel way to cook the ever-faithful hot dog,” the poet begins. As you can see, Queens native Bruno approaches the topic as though he really were a desperate housewife (so to speak) coming up with an inventive dinner menu on the quick in the year 1959–perhaps the last time that anybody could ever find the prospect of a “fresh garden salad” topped with chopped frankfurters “novel,” let alone appetizing. Upon closer inspection, much of the poetry published in Sink Review falls under the same category as 1959: good old American satire. Maybe Kim Gek Lin Short sums up the Sink Review and its backwards take on American culture best when she asks innocently, “What would Patsy Cline do?”

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Some Women Are Weird

I’ve heard of Alice Munro, but this totally weird short story Some Women is the first thing of hers I’ve actually read. Most of the time I don’t get a chance to read gossipy page-turners like this, so let’s just say my pages were turning quite–or should I say qwat?–fast. In my opinion, Some Women does a fine job of revealing not only the weird and ugly side of (unfortunately) female nature in particular, but also just how quickly the desire for domination can turn into an undignified and essentially ridiculous cat fight.

For me, the most interesting and well-developed character in Some Women was that of Roxanne. Maybe it’s just American culture–or, on the other hand, maybe it’s just me assuming that a Jennifer Love Hewitt Lifetime movie I watched last summer with my mom is American culture–but I’m pretty sure that if you invite 100 people to perform a free association with the word “masseuse,” 99 of them are going to say “prostitute” right off the bat. That being said, I found it really weird that Munro writes Roxanne more as an escort than as a legit massage therapist: beyond her questionable profession, she also tells “smutty” jokes and starts dressing sexy for each of her meaningful visits with the young and bedridden and married Mr Crozier. As Roxanne allows herself to get pulled into this weird (not to mention pathetic) competition with the man’s wife–whom she hates but apparently has never even met–it is really interesting but also kind of sad to track her downward spiral. In the beginning of the story Roxanne is this hip bohemian admired by the narrator for her offbeat manner, but by the end of Some Women her desire to best not only the absent wife, but also the rigid class structure of 1950s America, really does turn her into this insecure and entirely uncool monster, much as the qwat incident referenced in my first paragraph–as well as the stalking–succinctly suggests. The downright pathetic quality of this character is only compounded by the fact that it doesn’t even seem that Mr Crozier is interested in her at all, but just puts up with her presence at the behest of his mother.

This brings me to the part of Some Women I personally found to be the most unbelievable. Why is there this double meaning to Roxanne’s visits at all? It is obvious to the narrator as well as the reader that Old Mrs Crozier has hired Roxanne for more than just her skills as a masseuse, with Munro clearly playing on the whole “She’s not good enough for you” weird jealous in-law dynamic here. While a mother who cannot help but undermine the authority of her daughter-in-law is one thing, I find it really hard to believe that Old Mrs Crozier would actually want a hired masseuse to replace the history professor wife to whom her son is still married. However, although Old Mrs Crozier’s motivation isn’t exactly believable in and of itself, I think Munro is drawing a connection here between a mother’s inability to cope not only with the loss of control that she once wielded over her now grown son, but also just with his loss in general. Overall, Some Women is a psychologically in-depth and also very engaging read, in my opinion totally deserving of the 2010 Pen/O. Henry Prize. Publish? Yes!

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Publish? Y/N

ROLEPLAY: You are a big New York publisher and three hot new manuscripts are dropped on your desk. Which would you publish and WHY?

Annie Proulx, Them Old Cowboy Songs. I really know nothing about Westerns. In fact, I think I just saw my first, The Searchers, this week for a class. I’ve got to say, since I now know what John Wayne actually sounds like all of those already hilarious–not to mention spot-on!–impersonations in Full Metal Jacket have just gotten a whole lot funnier. Even though my point of reference here is skewed to say the least, I must admit that certain aspects of Proulx’s Western “didn’t seem believable to me,” despite the fact that the characters were pretty well-developed (to quote one Royal Tenenbaum). At first I couldn’t understand why this pregnant teenager’s husband and family would just abandon her in some shack in the wilderness for months, only to miscarry and eventually die alone. However, now that I’ve seen this 100% authentic 1950s John Wayne masterpiece, I understand that Manifest Destiny was brutal basically any way you want to look at it, with families apparently just pushing their adolescent daughters out the door to fend for themselves–in the case of The Searchers, even at the chance of an Indian attack. See? That’s kind of messed up, too. PUBLISH? Yes.

Daniel Alarcón, The Bridge. I have to admit, I found myself skimming over The Bridge instead of just diving in. Even though I know there is a considerable audience for this kind of thing, it is simply not my cup of tea. I myself haven’t read a lot of Raymond Carver, but I’m pretty sure Alarcón would need to cite him as his literary influence. Needless to say, I’m not a huge Carver fan… I like how the protagonist’s childhood home is located in “Gaza,” a nickname used to refer to this predominantly Hispanic inner-city neighborhood, or the so-called other side of the tracks. (Got it. Very catchy.) OK, that provides a promising international/political outlet for this story, leaving me only to wonder why it was never explored. A lot of the backstory and personal information described at length here lacked any kind of real emotional pull for me, and afterward I felt pretty lackadaisical about what I’d just read, mainly because everything was left so open-ended. For instance, after the blind aunt and uncle died in a traffic accident their peers not only felt it necessary to question the authenticity of their blindness, but were also so bold as to dispute even their cause of death. Despite the fact that they were both hit by a truck, one curiously expresses the belief that the man killed his wife, while another claims that she killed him. An absurd twist, but like the Gaza reference this side-story simply fails to shape up for me. Too much like real life. PUBLISH? –That’ll be the day!

Ted Sanders, Obit. This short story is admittedly kind of pointless, too, but I think I enjoyed reading Obit just because it provides several clear opportunities for me to engage in a critical commentary. Instead of just choosing a standard POV and running with it, this short story comes at you from a lot of different angles. Obit is kind of like a funhouse mirror in that way, with its foundational image continuing to reflect and replicate itself on into infinity, ultimately leaving the reader feeling not only downright disoriented, but also anxious to find the nearest EXIT–that is, if it even exists! Sanders also comments almost self-referentially about the discursive nature of his short story: “Truth reveals itself near the story’s end, but the mother will never reveal it to her son, his father, the dog in the hall. She will have no cause to reveal it because the story, in the mother’s telling, fails to end,” Sanders concludes (so to speak). Obit also contains hints of magical realism, particularly noticeable in the fabulous passage describing the tame bear who “licks peppermints” from the palm of the old woman. In its short length, lack of extraneous detail and universal quality, Obit reminded me a lot of another “magically real” short story we’ve read this semester, The Woman Who Slept with a Tortoise.

As I mentioned previously in relation to Elizabeth McBride’s short story Final Exam: History of Art 321, I appreciate it when authors experiment with layout. Although it can just come across as pretentious, sometimes a gimmicky format can make an otherwise forgettable story really stand out. I feel this is particularly true in the case of Obit and its occasionally irksome two-column page layout. While this style makes it all the more easy to lose track of the already elusive “story,” you might argue that that is precisely the author’s intention. There are indeed a lot of different factors at play here, but everything seems to chiefly revolve around the relationship of the husband and wife. Mirroring this, the page is divided into a couple of columns that truly belong side by side: one tells his side, the other hers. The page layout thus paradoxically visualizes the couple’s unity, as well as their inability to understand each other and resulting polarization. PUBLISH? Yes!

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Translating Hamlet

I really loved Norman Lavers’ short story “The Translator.” As an English major I’m kind of embarrassed to say this, but I’ve never actually read Hamlet before… I don’t know–it’s never been assigned in any of my classes, and even though a lot of the books and films I love reference it a lot–Fanny & Alexander!–somehow I just haven’t gotten around to it yet? While I’ve not read Hamlet, I am proud to say that I have seen a totally awesome film adaptation, so now whenever I hear “to be or not to be” I imagine Ethan Hawke coolly but aimlessly meandering through the “Action” section of his local Blockbuster…! But now that I’m thinking about what a travesty this really is, I am solemnly vowing to read Hamlet after I graduate this summer, and when I do I will definitely keep Lavers’ “The Translator” in mind.

As I was reading this “metafictional” short story, which follows an Asian translator as she struggles to bring this landmark of the Western canon to the Japanese language, I was wondering how true to the original her “translation” really was. Some of the images were beautifully and poetically surreal, so I found myself thinking, “I really want to read Hamlet if that is in there.” For instance, this sentence in particular really stood out to me as being both sad and beautiful at the same time: “And everywhere that there was blood, sparrows flew out, thousands and thousands, and fighting them was like fighting the drops of water in the sea.” …Is that in the original?

If nothing else, Lavers’ short story at least succeeds in renewing my interest in reading the classics. I think “The Translator” is a good example of how even though supposedly everything has already been said and done as far as literature is concerned, writers can (worst case scenario) just build new stories based off the ones we already have. Because, as we discussed in class, even Hamlet follows the form of a classic “revenge tragedy,” and is therefore inspired by the literature that preceded it. Like I said, I don’t know how “original” Lavers’ story really is, either, but I guess I will find out soon enough.

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