Book Reviews Archive

Favorite Scary Stories (and Other Frightful Literature)

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To celebrate Halloween, the Ploughshares staff gathers together some favorite reading that gave us the willies. Scary (Short) Stories “The Withered Arm,” by Thomas Hardy: Deeply unsettling, especially in its suggestion that casually fantasizing about bad things happening to other people (in this case, a fairly nice person) can


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Clean Kate Northrop Persea Books, August 2011 64 pages $15.00 With intense clarity of image and spare language, Kate Northrop’s poems immediately lure you into intimacy; placed in a present, visual moment, and often addressed in second person, you are the one who is seeing.

The Seamstress and the Wind

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The Seamstress and the Wind César Aira New Directions, June 2011 144 pages $12.95 César Aira is a deconstructed Kafka; a compact, comprehensible Roberto Bolaño obsessed with the frightening nonsense of civilization. The latter comparison terrifies academic readers, because if Bolano is made compact and comprehensible, how can they pretend

Power Ballads

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Power Ballads Will Boast University of Iowa Press, October 2011 160 pages $16.00 This post was written by Lynne Weiss. A lot of writers are drawn to music. There is nothing scientific about this impression, but I think there are more novels, poems, and stories about music and musicians


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Wunderkind Nikolai Grozni Free Press, September 2011 289 pages $24.00 Anger, sarcasm, and longing fuel Nikolai Grozni’s autobiographical novel Wunderkind, set in the late 1980s in a communist Sofia that is stony, backlit red. Crows and ravens populate a landscape overwhelmed with death; necrologies are tacked to trees and

Rust Fish

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Rust Fish Maya Jewell Zeller Lost Horse Press, April 2011 77 pages $15.00 Maya Jewell Zeller’s bio tells us that she was “Born at home in the upstairs apartment of her parents’ gas station on the Oregon coast,” and this half-sentence provides exactly enough information to authenticate the stories

Silver Sparrow

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Silver Sparrow Tayari Jones Algonquin Books, May 2011 $19.95 352 pages This post was written by Margaret LaFleur. Reading Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones’s latest novel, is much like playing a child’s memory card game. The cards are placed face down in front of you, and each turn you flip


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Zazen Vanessa Veselka Red Lemonade, May 2011 $15.95 257 pages This post was written by Caitlin O’Neil. With the anniversary of the September 11 attacks just a few days past, Zazen isn’t the comforting book you might be seeking. But it is a book that could not have been

Coeur de Lion

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Coeur de Lion Ariana Reines Fence Books, September 2011 $15.95 128 pages Coeur de lion (“lion-heart”) is the brand of cheese pictured in the frontispiece to Ariana Reines’s second book of poetry. More famously, it’s the cognomen of Richard I of England, who also turns up, on page 65. 

A. S. J. Tessimond’s Collected Poems

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Collected Poems A.S.J. Tessimond Bloodaxe Books, November 2010 256 pages $24.95 Wallace Stevens wrote that “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully.” That mischievous “almost,” of course, can be interpreted in many ways, and poets have always had different attitudes about how much of a fight verses