Book Reviews

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IN THE NOT QUITE DARK, BY DANA JOHNSON

Review, Arcadia, 2016.

I met Dana Johnson last March at AWP, minutes before she spoke as one of my people for Women Write Los Angeles, a panel I co-designed and co-moderated with my friend Tatyana Branham. Johnson was our wild card. We knew the other women on our panel both professionally and personally (Hey Lisa! Hi HMV!), but Johnson was a last-minute add-on when another writer canceled. Both Tatyana and I did what we could to research, reading parts of her first story collection, Break Any Woman Down (2001), and novel, Elsewhere, California (2012), but the truth is we had no idea what to expect, writing discussion questions like, Will Dana like this?creating commemorative bookmarks thinking, Will Dana find this dumb? A couple weeks before the convention, Johnson’s story “She Deserves Everything She Gets” appeared in The Paris Review. In my small West Texas apartment, I read the first line of her story aloud for Tatyana, “We are all sitting around a fire pit, talking about how not to get raped,” and I thought, Oh shit. This is going to be good.

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Contents May Have Shifted, By Pam Houston

Review, Prime Number Magazine, 2013.

What started off as a writing exercise to produce new work for a reading in Madison, Wisconsin, became Pam Houston’s fifth book, the novel Contents May Have Shifted. Published in 2012, Contents is a collection of 144 episodic chapters, numbered and named for the destinations in which they take place. And because Pam—the writer and the character—thinks in 12’s “something to do with moons or months, and nothing to do with the apostles,” each group of 12 chapters is subdivided into 12 different chapters taking place on an airplane, named by flight number, showing the transit from one place to the next.

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Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler

Review, Arcadia, 2016.

Stephanie Danler’s story is the stuff of great myths. I read about her luck one night during a time when, if I couldn’t sleep, I would Google: restaurant fiction, waitress novels, books about serving. The headline read: Waitress Is One of Many New Writers With Big Book Deals. An article in the New York Times. And her photo, which normally wouldn’t garner too much talk, yet the editor was smart to feature a large image before the type, so midnight readers could see her eyes—crystal blue—perfect hair, coy smile. Most writers are unremarkable. I had a feeling Danler made great tips. I clicked, Preorder.

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EVERY KISS A WAR, BY LEESA CROSS-SMITH

Review, Arcadia, 2015.

Leesa Cross-Smith’s short story collection Every Kiss A War is like the Fourth of July: barefoot and smoky, pulls of whiskey-soaked words still sweet on the tongue until bang—the end. The debut collection from the WhiskeyPaper founder contains twenty-seven short stories: some linked, some long, some flash, yet all pop and sizzle in their own way.  The characters in this collection are delightfully real and—dare I say—“unlikable.” Bad girls, sad girls, chain-smoking-whiskey-drinking-pool-playing-runaway girls, lost girls.