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Review: Animals Strike Curious Poses by Elena Passarello

Whether celebrating the webs woven by the first spider taken into outer space or offering readers tongue-in-cheek warnings about trying to teach a starling to whistle Mozart, Passarello finds the right tone for every essay, propelling readers from one magnificent animal to the next.

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Review: The Origin of Vermilion by Katy Masuga

Masuga’s disruptions of the “I,” and thus the eye of the story, compels the reader to ask at any given moment in the narrative, “Who is I?” The longing to correct the phrase plunges the perspective into the readers themselves with, “Who am I?” Ultimately, this is the dangerous question that is asked throughout the novel, both by Masuga and, subsequently, her readers. Her journey into herself becomes something that demands resolution, and the reader believes in the dream and the reality simultaneously. She writes, “I daydream a labyrinth that I navigate to the end, discovering finally the purpose of the dreams of my mother and of the man with the watch” (71).

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Review: The Big Book of Exit Strategies by Jamaal May

Jamaal May’s second collection, The Big Book of Exit Strategies,continues to meditate on the landscapes and figures of Detroit, but where his debut collection left off, these poems leap forward—away from the machinations of industry and humanity that powered Hum and into a kind of magical wilderness, where memories and reflections of urban place blossom into the mystical and nostalgic, confounding the kind of imagery and tropes readers might expect.

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Review: Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster by Svetlana Alexievich; translated by Keith Gessen

One of the more disturbing aspects of French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann’s masterful 9 ½ hour Holocaust documentary, Shoah, is the beauty his camera often captures. A river turns gold beneath a late afternoon sky, and a few miles away, wildflowers sway among the ruins of concentration camps. When a bird calls from the woods, you begin to understand that the spring sun sometimes warmed the necks of those who arrived at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

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Review: Cities I’ve Never Lived In by Sara Majka

The characters in these fourteen stories, set mostly in a desolate, coastal Maine “where the sun was so slant and spare that by January you felt it could disappear,” suffer from deep longings that threaten to overwhelm them. These individuals reflect the region’s sparse landscape, with Majka pushing aside specifics—hair color, job titles, names—leaving only the raw emotion of an encounter. The narrator in “Boy with Finch” avoids all superficial details when remembering a long-ago incident with her mother.

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