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Lisa Maria's Guide For The Perplexed
Lisa Maria's Guide For The Perplexed
by Susan Hubbard
Edition: Paperback
13 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars the smartest kind of chick lit., July 9 2004
Reviewed by Bonnie MacAllister of Small Spiral Notebook
Red Dress Ink has offered a surprisingly witty and literary work in Hubbard's take on the life of a struggling writer forced to move back home and to take on clients as a professional housecleaner. Protagonist Lisa Marie supplements her household toil by writing an anonymous advice column for the New Sparta Other. Both manual tasks reveal a paper trail which leads to discovering unsigned semi-pornographic letters, political corruption, gender-bending expeditions to Florida, and cross-dressing novelists who enact English royalty.
The novel is sprinkled with literary references to the classics and books of etiquette: she samples from Samuel Beckett and Marjoris Hillis' 1930s feminist treatises, citing "The woman always pays in a thousand little shabbinesses." Hubbard's prose has a resilient quality, lucidly depicting a vivid heroine who is a bit Nancy Drew and a bit Margery Kempe.
Not unlike the other fare from Red Dress Ink, Lisa Marie's Guide for the Perplexed contains elements the romance of the chick lit pervading our booksellers; however, in her attention to detail, Hubbard weaves a modern love story pickled in sarcasm, marinated in disillusion, and expelled from a vacuum of dissolution.
Her story culminates in an Atlantis-like scene, a denouement of destruction in Anytown, Middle America: "The carousel that was one of the mall's icons that had been bisected by two metal poles which formerly supported a banner Shop Till You Drop. Two carousel ponies had been thrown through the window of the nearby By Gum It's Monday restaurant, and the air was thick with the odor of burned French fries and frankfurters." Hubbard's work fuses the mundane of daily life with the sinister secrets which lurk beneath the bound guise of business attire.

Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind
Burlesque and the New Bump-n-Grind
by Michelle Baldwin
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 24.44

5.0 out of 5 stars shocking, tantalizing and conquering ...., July 2 2004
Reviewed by: John A. Mangarella for Small Spiral Notebook
When author Michelle Baldwin found her way into Denver's Mercury Café to see her first burlesque show, a career was not only born but the first lines of this delightful study of burlesque took shape. The is not just a book, it's the best type of book, a time machine back to the last century when English actress Lydia Thompson toured the U.S.A., shocking, tantalizing and conquering the American stage.
Baldwin's meticulous research, her obvious affection for burlesque, both legendary and contemporary, compels every page of this book to dance before the reader's eyes with a history of women who were not only ahead of their time but stole the heart of America at every whistle-stop. From the crowds that mobbed the Chicago World's Fair ogling the notorious Little Egypt through the advent of Mae West as she descends on Broadway with her first show, provocatively entitled "SEX". This book packs a lot of fast facts that peel away with the ease of silk clothing dropping to the stage floor.
She presents the burlesque of comedy and song, of variety acts and supple curves. From the hootchy kootchy dancers of the 1890's through Sam Scribner's Columbia Wheel, the sexually censored main circuit of burlesque houses that competed with the wild ride of the Minsky Brothers who founded stock burlesque troops and rented inexpensive theaters in poor neighborhoods that boasted cheap tickets and expensive sizzle. Eventually, Minsky's rise caused the powerful but restrictive Scribner to stop censoring his shows by allowing nudity and blue humor.
Ms. Baldwin's anecdotal choices are fascinating. Who invented the modern striptease? Was it Mae Dix in 1917 who accidentally removed her collars and cuffs to ignite the audience into pure wildness? Or was it Hinda Wassau who was pushed onto the stage half dressed by a stage manager? Or was it... read it for yourself-where the clothing falls is tantalizing. You can almost hear the brassy music rising from the orchestra pit as mentions of Gypsy Rose Lee, Sally Rand, Ann Corio and Georgia Sothern form their own girl shows and take them on the road. Even though they danced in Middle America, in small theaters and carnivals, they filled every seat and brought cosmopolitan glamour to venues that were way, way, way, way off Broadway. The author covers burlesque's high popularity as well as its low periods when threatened by repressive times as well as a new breed of strippers that are somewhat hardcore. Even though burlesque overcame censorship its toughest battle was with an era that was much more permissive. This is where Ms. Baldwin's book separates as provocatively as Sally Rand's fans. A major portion of "Burlesque" is devoted to "The New Bump-N-Grind" and all those suggestively creative performers that have successfully picked up the mantle of Gypsy Rose Lee, Ann Corio and other legends to show us what IS burlesque today.
Ms. Baldwin relates the resurgence of burlesque with even more passion because she's living it, thus endowing the second part of the book with a "You Are There" style that really does allow the reader to tour with all the contemporary performers. Jennie Lee, known as "The Bazoom Girl" in her heyday began assembling her massive collection of burlesque memorabilia on a goat farm in the California desert. Following Miss Lee's death, Dixie Evans, a fellow dancer who is a stunning Marilyn Monroe look-alike, began transforming the memorabilia into a museum. Dixie Evans also started the Miss Exotic World Competition which has drawn larger crowds each successive year. She also wrote the forward to this book.
"Burlesque And The New Bump-N-Grind" stems from the past and blossoms in the present and future. Ms. Baldwin's chore at describing the world of burlesque as it is today encompasses hundreds of entertainers and dozens of festivals and shows. Make no mistake about it, as this amply photographed book demonstrates, today's burlesque is every bit as sexy, funny, risque, respectable, wicked and addictive as the movements of Gypsy Rose Lee or Ann Corio or any of the great acts from decades gone by. The sumptuous photographs indicate that these new women of burlesque have taken some of their inspiration from the past. There are exquisite costumes reminiscent of the Ziegfield Follies, something to remind us of Weimar Berlin and Marlene Dietrich's The Blue Angel. There are costumes from the Silent Era and later Hollywood as well as some from the Old West. Ms. Baldwin covers all the ground, touching off on some of the men performing baggy pants comedy as well the bands that put some blood pressure into the music as the women bump-n-grind.
In quoting a paragraph from the book about contemporary burlesque's allure: "Modern glamour is the sleek, sexy aesthetic of technology. Everything from the ultrathin models featured on magazine covers to the tiniest cell phone to the most unobtrusive stereo speaker sets the pace of modern life. Burlesque glamour, on the other hand, is larger than life, filled with innuendo, and coated with glitter. Burlesque offers something different than the standard mass-produced culture. In burlesque, girls can have curves, often big curves. They can be loud and funny and still be sex symbols. The basic elements of burlesque are things that are missing from contemporary life."
"Burlesque And The New Bump-N-Grind" teases and pleases. On a historic level, Michelle Baldwin's book should be a welcome addition to any writer's research library because of the many different areas of burlesque she covers. As for just pure fun, a bit of skin that reveals a heart much more naked, "Burlesque And The New Bump-N-Grind" is a very pleasurable read. Buy the book, and then check out the listing of websites advertising shows all across the country. Then buy yourself a ticket and go have some fun.

A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That: A Novel
A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That: A Novel
by Lisa Glatt
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars observations of the relationship between sex, death & love, June 28 2004
A mother dying of breast cancer who wants to love, a daughter with a revolving door into her bedroom but a Beware sign on her heart, a desperate, acerbic friend whose lips puff like down pillows and beds a man because she likes that he likes her, a woman who obsesses over her husband's infidelity, and a teenage girl with moxie who lends out her body like a library book while her father pines over the mother that left them behind: Elizabeth, Rachel, Angela, Emma, and Georgia are the central figures in Lisa Glatt's auspicious novel-in-stories, A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That.
The novel shifts between the women's points of view from 1997-2000, all bearing the weight of someone leaving. At the center is poetry teacher, Rachel Spark, who has been coping with her chipper mother, Elizabeth's bought with terminal breast cancer. For over six years, Rachel has remained in her mother's home, ferreting Elizabeth to chemo sessions, cosmetic surgery and leech therapy all amidst Rachel's own unraveling. A bevy of men haunt her bedrooms with their accents, their stories and finally, after an unprotected one-night stand with a Brit and a mother who creeps quickly towards death, Rachel finally confronts loss and the possibility of life after her mother.
During the day, Emma Bloom lectures girls about safer sex, sees girls with round bellies, STD cancers that fester and spread, infecting a girl's body and stands side-by-side with the woman she found kissing her husband (a man who studies bats) and wonders about love, what does it imply, who does it implicate and how it is possible that one can love and be comforted too soon. Most compelling is Georgia. A teenager alone with a brother who longs for escape from their cold home, a despondent father, and a mother who has taken up house with another - Georgia's body is this thing - this empty thing that gives her power.
Bodies are merely an assortment of parts that can be manipulated and molded to get one through one's day. A breast implant provides posture, balance - a mouth is an oracle to quiet with cruel words or silence through oral sex, - Lisa Glatt's debut is all at once an uncomfortable and unflinching look about women's complicated relationship with their bodies. Many of the characters bear the weight of abandonment by their loved ones and often are left to raise themselves. Disease with respect to relationships and the body is so intricately linked which raises an eye to the close relationship between sex, death and love.
Glatt's dialogue is authentic, prose sparkles and many of the passages are absolutely heartbreaking. The structure is a bit rough at times with the reader having to flip back and forth to locate oneself in time (same with long passages that switch between present/past tense), however, that aside, A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That is honest, pensive and uncompromising.

Wake Up, Sir!: A Novel
Wake Up, Sir!: A Novel
by Jonathan Ames
Edition: Hardcover
17 used & new from CDN$ 0.22

5.0 out of 5 stars stylish, dapper and darkly comic, Ames's best novel yet!, June 28 2004
This review is from: Wake Up, Sir!: A Novel (Hardcover)
In the spirit (or spirits if one could be so bold) of Fitzgerald comes Jonathan Ames's latest offering, Wake Up, Sir! Faced with the terrifying prospect of following-up a highly successful first novel, Alan Blair, a thirty something neurotic, charming alcoholic is determined to the leave the docile streets of Montclair, New Jersey in order to take a cure in Sharon Springs (to commune with Jews at a Hasidic resort - to make some sense of the Jewish Question) and complete his novel. Blair's current situation is desperate: he deploys secret agent style tactics to artfully dodge his gun-toting NRA card-holder Uncle Irwin and a weeping Aunt only wishes Alan sobriety.
From a rather handsome settlement, Blair employs an affable Brit-sounding valet, Jeeves - a homage to P.G. Wodehouse's novels. Always there when Blair winds up in a pinch (After a night of excessive drinking, Alan wonders what becomes of people that actually call those numbers scribbled on public bathrooms and the back of public phone books - thus answering, in part, the Homosexuality Question), Jonathan Ames creates a loveable manservant that doles sincere advice (Blair must get back on the wagon and complete the novel) and ensures the selection of the smartest sport jacket and tie. After a swift and painful pummeling in Sharon Springs, they take off to the prestigious Rose Colony - a refuge for artists to work. Spending his nights drinking, days peeling one eyelid up and attempting a few lines of prose (dictated to the waiting valet) - Alan Blair finds himself contracting lice, labeled an Anti-Semite and falling in love with Ava, a woman who the most delicious nose. The nose promises to lead Alan on a downward spiral if it were only for the sake of trusty Jeeves....one hopes.
Forever acerbic, Jonathan Ames has created a cast of unusual and hysterical characters and a minefield (or sandbox) in which to play. Regal yet raunchy, the self-absorbed, self-deprecating, Alan Blair seeks answers to all the great questions, while Jeeves seeks to keep the two afloat. Wake Up, Sir! is engaging to the end. The prose is stylishly dapper as if one were reading a Fitzgerald classic that ballooned with Ames's fresh air. Already the author of four novels and a fixture in the New York literary scene, Wake Up, Sir! may be Jonathan Ames's most achieved book to date.

Be More Chill
Be More Chill
by Ned Vizzini
Edition: Hardcover
41 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars a dynamic novel!, June 22 2004
This review is from: Be More Chill (Hardcover)
Reviewed by Steve Hansen for Small Spiral Notebook
Squip is the hook; the dynamo that powers Be More Chill. It's what separates Ned Vizzini's tale of dork-cum-cool guy from your other, similar, young adult fare.
Jeremy Heere compounds his dorkdom by documenting each slight onto forms he's coined 'Humiliation Sheets,' ticking off every snicker, snotty comment and a number of other embarrassments he suffers daily at the hands of his peers. No explanation is given for the purpose of these sheets other than to serve as some kind of proof of their originator's dillweed-ness. They seem to be an adolescent substitute, of sorts, for self-flagellation. Heere is a loser, indeed.
Enter the aforementioned 'squip' (a nanocomputer perched in the brain of anyone who takes the 'magic' pill), and Jeremy goes from social pariah to student body messiah. He ascends the social strata all the way to the pinnacle of cool, thanks to his execution of the instructions given him by the voice inside his head. His squip directs him to drop his dearest, best friend Michael for political expediency's sake (how can he remain friends with somebody now below his modicum of cool?), and advises Michael to hook up with the popular chicks in order to send Christine, the girl he really likes, into a jealous tizzy. Is this computer thing Machiavellian or what? The question is can Jeremy live with himself now that he's gone from likable geek to scheming ass?
This novel will appeal most to those still in high school or a few years removed, thus its 'Young Adult' designation. Not to say Vizzini's writing doesn't have some universal appeal, it's just that high school 'problems' are so petty, insubstantial and contrived to anybody who's had to survive for a sustained amount of time in the real world. The tragedies of acne or someone's refusal to return a greeting in the hall seems pretty small when weighed against a home foreclosure are the scourge of a bad credit rating.
That said the squip gimmick has landed Vizzini's book a movie deal. And as you read Be More Chill, you may find yourself wondering if this wasn't the author's (perhaps unconscious) intention all along. What Hollywood executive could turn down American Pie with a Keanu Reeve's voiceover? Whether on the page or the silver screen, Be More Chill will entertain high school kids nationwide, and, no doubt, a few of their parents.

Happy Baby
Happy Baby
by Stephen Elliott
Edition: Hardcover
22 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars raw, honest and utterly unflinching prose., June 7 2004
This review is from: Happy Baby (Hardcover)
Written by Katherine Darnell, of small spiral notebook
Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott is a piercing novel, unflinchingly narrated by a young man named Theo, a former Ward of the Court in the state of Illinois. Theo's life is one of continual movement and instability. He travels from bad group homes to abusive detention centers to dangerous schools; everywhere he goes, slipping through another crack, forsaken by another figure of authority. Guards both abuse and protect Theo, and caseworkers ask, "So how are they treating you?" without really caring to hear the answer. Despite an astoundingly complicated superstructure of State bureaucracy, Theo is resoundingly alone in the world. Elliott creates an overwhelmingly bleak world, but with his brilliant, achingly sparse brushstrokes, he is able to portray this world without resorting to over-effect. Theo and his compatriots' emotions and surroundings are written evocatively, without any sense of having been overwritten or belabored.
The strength of Elliott's language coupled with his clear affection for Theo makes the story soar. Elliott's tale is Dickensian in its themes of wayward childhood horror, abandonment, and artful darkness. Elliott has constructed a narrative that travels from the present into the past; each chapter (which is somewhat akin to a self-contained story) slips gently into the period of time just before that of the previous one. Elliott's genius lies in his ability to convey enough information in the preceding chapters so that the story flows gracefully, with everything coming together neatly. It would be very easy for Elliott to rely on the cleverness of the technique rather than forcing the story to stand on its own merits. But fortunately Elliott is a writer with enough talent that he completely avoids this type of literary laxity, and he creates something altogether original and incredibly powerful with the reverse-narrative technique. The effect of moving backwards in time makes the novel all the more resonant; as the reader travels into Theo's formative years, we know all too clearly the emotional havoc that was wreaked in their wake.
Theo's youth inside the bureaucracy of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is a disaster. The facilities are grim, the employees are either negligent or sadistic, and the rare caring adult never lasts very long. His parents are both dead, which leaves him no other option. Theo finds love with a girl named Maria who arrives on the scene wearing innocent pink, initially possessing a charming, furtive naivety. Yet soon Theo realizes that Maria is overwhelmingly haunted by past abuses, and she craves a measure of pain and mistreatment that Theo refuses to deliver. After Maria sinks into the dark recesses of Chicago with a brutal man named Joe, Theo marries a woman named Zahava who cheats on him. Theo is aware of her infidelities, yet because of his neediness and familiarity with mistreatment, he does little to confront this situation. He lives in Amsterdam for a while, working as a barker for a sex show. Theo remains above all of the cities in which he lives, never tethered closely to any one place, never sure where he might stay, always meekly hungering for abuse, always courting some small measure of disaster and punishment. After moving to San Francisco, a woman named Ambellina becomes his companion, and Theo finds her rigorous, titillating punishments a cleansing relief. He answers her ad: "East Bay Woman looking for a toy to abuse. Must be full time. No equivocating." She slaps him, pulls his hair, and scratches him, while simultaneously promising protection and screaming abuse. It is inside this whirlwind that Theo feels safe. The first chapter of the book depicts Theo's returning to Chicago, visiting with Maria, who appears to have found serenity and peace with the birth of her charming baby boy.
Elliott has created a work of great art. After reading the final chapter, which manages to read as both completely heartbreaking, and also as a comfortingly uplifting coda, it is clear that Stephen Elliott is a writer of incomparable talent. The effect of reading this book is akin to having the wind knocked out of you - painful, shocking, and thrilling at the same time.

Me and Orson Welles
Me and Orson Welles
by Robert Kaplow
Edition: Hardcover
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Kaplow's wonderful lullaby, May 25 2004
This review is from: Me and Orson Welles (Hardcover)
(...)
Robert Kaplow's Me and Orson Welles is not a coming of age story. It's a Manhattan tale of an age that slipped through our fingers. A Times Square that only exists in the memory of old Broadway troopers, colored in with characters straight from the files of a dozen or so New York newspapers that have met their own expiration dates. But this book, the story of how Richard Samuels, a New Jersey teenager manages to brass his way into Orson Welles' avant garde 1937 production of Julius Caesar and then survive for seven full days is every bit the Broadway tale. Come along and listen to Kaplow's lullaby of Broadway as seen through Richie Samuels's eyes. This is the Broadway that Damon Runyon wrote about in "Guys and Dolls". And while Richie is working his bit part with the great Orson Welles, you can be sure that not far away, Sammy Glick from Budd Shulberg's What Makes Sammy Run? is conning his way from copyboy to Hollywood. It might seem a bit unorthodox to mention Runyon or Shulberg's classics but author Robert Kaplow has recreated the Manhattan they described so superbly and then dropped Richie Samuels right into it. This author is masters of subtext because you know what the major characters like Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton and John Houseman will go on to do in later years. We, the readers, know the secret and we relish in it every bit as much as Walter Winchell might bark, "Wynta gimmee a few words?" This is young Richie Samuels, who knows everything there is to know about the theatre, names of all the greats and the shows in which they appeared as well as the songs they sang. This is young Richie Samuels slickly conning his way out of high school classes to be at rehearsals where Welles thunders across the stage, raging at John Houseman who is slowly losing his mind to keep the star happy and productive. And as much as Richie Samuels believes he can learn from Orson Welles, we can forsee the future that he can't possibly know. We can see Welles frightening the country with his 1938 radio broadcast of "War of the Worlds" while further down the career path, "Citizen Kane" is just dying to be lifted from the dark heart of William Randolph Hearst. We can almost imagine Richie, many years later, turning on his television set to find a much heavier Welles in his famed wine commercials.
With all that said, this is Richie Samuels's week. The seven days in his life where he coldly makes the decisions that place him onto a career path. That's one reason this is not a coming of age story. Richie knows exactly what he is going to do. He never blunders into it. He is determined to stay on the stage with Welles and if that means lying to his parents, getting other kids at school to lie for him so he can cut classes and generally just obscure his Manhattan melodrama until he's ready to spring it on friends and family, he's very up to the challenge. Naturally, Richie's momentum stumbles a bit when falls in love with Sonja, an enigmatic beauty that every man in the cast wants to bed. Just the scent of her walking by Richie and Joseph Cotton launches the two men into a sex talk that sounds more like father and son than a laundry list of conquests. He learns the softness of love from Sonja while absorbing the power of an actor coming into bloom from Welles. The chemistry of these two merging within Richie, during the seven days he worked at the Mercury Theatre on West Forty-first Street, bring him the strength to face Welles when he realizes that the star can be unduly cruel to the people around him.
Robert Kaplow's, Me and Orson Welles is a story that we'd fully expect to see on the screen. It's the powerful type of story that HBO does so well. And, it's a lot of fun! Pick up a copy and turn some pages.

The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud
by Ben Sherwood
Edition: Hardcover
33 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars wonderfully moving., May 11 2004
Reviewed by Small Spiral Notebook
The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is a truly luminous work. The novel revolves around the different realms of life, what's beyond here in the present as we know it, and what might exist on the spirit level that only a few can touch.
Charlie and Sam St. Cloud share a mother, a beagle named Oscar and a love for the Red Sox. One day Charlie acquires tickets for a game-the Sox against the Yankees. They sneak off by way of a neighbor's "borrowed" car, enjoy the game and then rush to make it home before their mother gets off work. Attention diverted momentarily, Charlie can't respond fast enough to avoid the truck coming at them.
Both boys are dead, but a determined fireman brings Charlie back to life. Sam does not share the same fate, but in that moment when neither was quite alive or death, the brothers promised to remain with one another.
It is a promise the two of them keep for thirteen years.
The townspeople and his mother believe that his grief are driving Charlie crazy, but he knows he can see and talk and hug his brother. Medicine, therapists. Finally Charlie decides that it's best not to mention Sam's presence to anyone.
For thirteen years, the brothers have met and played catch. Talked. In order for them to keep their promise, each has had to give up something. Sam remains a child and Charlie has never known love.
Not until Tess.
Now Charlie has to decide if he can-and how to-move on.
The book's structure and writing effortlessly takes one across time and plane. Dotted with humor ("Tess couldn't stop the reflex. 'Do you always pick up women in the cemetery?'/'Only if they're breathing.'"), this book will break your heart and then lift it. It is a story about the wondrous possibilities of love; its power across realms and it's a story about life and the miraculous joy of it all.

Dancing in Odessa
Dancing in Odessa
by Ilya Kaminsky
Edition: Paperback
19 used & new from CDN$ 7.09

5.0 out of 5 stars a beautiful document of a life..., May 11 2004
This review is from: Dancing in Odessa (Paperback)
Reviewed by Small Spiral Notebook:
It was in 1993 that the family of poet/lawyer Ilya Kaminsky received asylum as political refugees. Kaminsky has never returned to the "city of his childhood" because the country he left exists only in his imagination. Still, he has documented that life and its memories in his first full-length book, "Dancing In Odessa."
Winner of the 2002 Dorset Prize from Tupelo Press, "Dancing In Odessa" is a joyous achievement. Passionate. Compassionate. Daring in its use of imaginative language. Though the work, written in English, has a deep feeling for a life lived in another country, the words transcend to one universal.
The book opens with "Author's Prayer," a work that sets the tone for the work.
I will praise your madness, and
in a language not mine, speak
of music that wakes us, music
in which we move. For whatever I say
is a kind of petition, and the darkest
days must I praise.
Continuing to speak, the importance of words and language, is predominant in Kaminsky's poems. Perhaps that can be contributed to his early life in the Soviet Union; among other things, his grandfather killed and his grandmother exiled to Siberia. Kaminsky has stated that "family narrative" is not his "thing;" his goal is one of "imaginary memoir," of being a storyteller and so he writes.
In Praise of Laughter," he mentions the need for continuance:
all our words, heaps of burning feathers
that rise and rise with each retelling.
And in the title poem:
I retell the story the light etches
Into my hand: Little book, go to the city
without me.
One section of the book, Musica Humana, is an elegy for Osip Mandelstam, a Russian poet who dared to criticize Joseph Stalin in his work. Mandelstam was imprisoned and exiled. The poems are simply delicious in their use of language and imagery.
Once or twice in his life, a man
is peeled like apples.
What's left is a voice
that splits his being
down to the center.
We see: obscenity, fright mud
and
He believed in the human being. Could not
cure himself
of Petersburg. He cited by heart
phone numbers
of the dead.
"Dancing In Odessa" is a collection of poetry that excited me. Not only due to Kaminsky's use of the English language, but for the truths he shares. In the section "Praise," he speaks of his family's leaving Odessa.
This is how we live on earth, Kaminsky writes. "A flock of sparrows./the darkness, a magician, finds quarters/behind our ears. We don't know what life is,/who makes it, the reality is thick/with longing. We put it up to our lips/and drink."

Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
Candyfreak: A Journey through the Chocolate Underbelly of America
by Steve Almond
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 19.96
44 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars witty & sweet., April 23 2004
Review: From Small Spiral Notebook
In Candyfreak, Almond parlays his own obsession with chocolate into a quest to seek out the sources and practices of today's chocolate confection, as well as to learn about the forces that have overwhelmed the artistry and pluck of individual chocalatiers into the mechanized behemoth of American mass culture. Throughout, Almond tempers his political urgencies with his own disarming awe and glee at the industry and its products, and he also deals with unfolding family tragedies. His grandfather is dying, while at the same time Almond realizes his lifelong zeal for chocolate both saved his life and "broke his spirit." If it sounds like too much to cram in, perhaps you've not read Almond's ambitious book of sort stories, My Life in Heavy Metal, a book that will give you faith in Almond's ability to multi-task, regardless of genre.
Almond's prose packs a sensory wallop at all times. It is also candid, direct, and muscular- he wastes no space. Because of his economy, his writing is akin to the best candy: all good stuff, no fill or the useless air that puffs up the wretched Three Musketeers bar. When he rattles off the names of regional candybars now gone to mass marketers, he says their names are "incantatory poetry." When he says he doesn't like coconut, he says it's like "chewing on a sweetened cuticle." The writing says it: candy, chocolate in particular, for Almond is a passion, a "freak." And like all freaks, Almond has his rage, and the loss of a particular candybar, the Caravelle, and his subsequent despondency and rampage after any sign of it led him to consider the book.
Almond meditates on the sources of his "freak," including its lineage. His father's passion for Junior Mints he sees as a thing to awe: "I loved watching him eat these, patiently, with moist clicks of the tongue. I loved his mouth, the full, pillowy lips, the rakishly crooked teeth-the mouth of a closet sensualist." After some consideration of the roots, however, he's off, interviewing confectioners, visiting factories and tasting candy fresh out of the "enrober" (a device to which he devotes many fine lines), squirreling away samples, and trying to see what did happen to chocolate in America. The short answer is, well, the same thing that happened virtually to every worthwhile thing from beer to sports: mass distribution, mass advertising, mass culture, mass dumbing down.
The short answer doesn't do justice to Almond's work because Candyfreak does what the best creative nonfiction does: reports something in unerring detail, educates about a topic we thought we knew a thing or two about, tells a story both about the author and about the subject, and delivers the whole package in style. Almond's fevered style-known to many from his short stories-here finds a subject about which many folks feel feverish, and the result is one of the most entertaining books I've read in a while.
Almond's tries to balance political fantasy and the reality of the urge: "In my own pathologically romantic sense of things, I viewed [little] companies as throwbacks to a bygone era of candy, when each town had its individual brands. And the good peoples of this country would gather together, in public squares with lots of trees and perhaps a fellow picking a banjo, and they would partake of the particular candy bar produced in their town and feel a surge of sucrose-fueled civic identity. What I really wanted to do was visit these companies-if nay still existed-and to chronicle their struggles for survival in this wicked age of homogeneity, and, not incidentally, to load up on free candy."
While he showcases opinions and can seem hostile at times in his discernment, he is not faddish or uncritical: "The new chocolate specialty products are equally pretentious. I ask you, does the world truly need a bar infused with hot masala? The latest rage, as of this writing, is super-concentrated chocolate, with a cocoa content in the 90 percent range, a trend that will, in due time, allow us to eat Baker's Chocolate at ten bucks a square."
Opinionated, deftly and surprisingly written, thoroughly experienced, and surprisingly moving, Steve Almond's Candyfreak will have you wandering into specialty stores hoping they have candy racks. It will have you looking down your nose at M&Ms, for perhaps the first time in your life. It will have you cruising the Internet for the Five Star Bar, hoping the taste lives up to the writing. It will have you thinking about chocolate for weeks afterward, more than you ever have. And it will have you wanting to return to the book, again and again, to find those sentences, those toothsome, goo-on-your-chin, crunchulicious miracles of sentences, and to wish everyone you know the pleasure of experiencing the world, for a little while anyway, mouth first.

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