Tag Archives: Spring 2015

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

girlishalfformedEimear McBride
Coffee House Press ($24)

by Alex Brubaker

Eimear McBride’s debut novel, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, begins with a jolt to the reader’s sense of language, reality, and any traditional form of exposition for a novel. The book opens with the unnamed narrator at two years old, and McBride effortlessly weaves in and out of her head and the external world as she grows older and the novel progresses. It is disorienting, complex, and at times nonsensical. But once the reader is able to reorient herself to the structure of the novel, McBride provides a singularly unique experience that is unlike any other book in recent memory.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing feels personal as it details the inner life of its complex protagonist, who invokes feelings of intimacy, revulsion, and at times, heart-wrenching sympathy. The novel follows the narrator as she comes of age, surrounded by a struggling single mother, her tragic brother, a predatory uncle, and an abrasive religious background. It isn’t the plot that makes the book stand out, but the intense focus on language and the ways in which it shapes our reality.

McBride evokes a hard-fought empathy to make the reader feel as if they have slipped off the page and into the narrator’s head. Via choppy sentences, stray signifiers, and other linguistic devices, we go where the narrator goes and we feel as she feels. The attempt to invite the reader into this intimate space through broken language is a daring and difficult feat, and McBride pulls it off. As we get pulled through the muck of unconventional language and fractured narration, the effect is mesmerizing:

And I wonder sometimes for her. Would you be better off dead? Don’t say that. Don’t you ever say that. I say it in me. But. That’s forever now. Look. That is me. My thoughts. Are all shame.

This line of thought is audacious, uncomfortable, and uncompromisingly human. McBride isn’t afraid to explore the dark: whether examining sex, religion, or death, she collides with it head-on in a show of literary artistry that can be only called a transcendent reading experience. With its portrait of a beautifully complex character groping for comfort and happiness in a world that more often than not refuses to reciprocate, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing may not give us solace and sentimentality, but it does offer a well-wrought glimpse of humanity.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”

notthatkindofgirlLena Dunham
Random House ($28)

by Erin Lewenauer

Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture and television show Girls registered instantly with an entire generation, confirming her as its voice. Through laughs and tears and quirks, Dunham reassures her fellow Millennials that they aren’t alone in witnessing the bizarre become familiar in recent years. She saw it too, and she managed to capture it on film. Her debut book, Not That Kind of Girl, evokes this cinematic emotion again and again as she splashes from one anecdote to the next, each just as strange and honest as one’s own reflection in the mirror.

Dunham’s memoir-in-essays displays a special kind of bravery. She gleefully flings a window open into the day’s (or often night’s) weather and lets us into her relationship with herself. You feel blood pumping through every scene and embraced by a refreshingly candid narrator, one whose chatty, articulate voice bursts with advice, information, and yes, confessions. Each chapter takes the form of a carefully crafted notebook, complete with intricate, playful illustrations of Dunham and her surroundings by Joana Avillez.

In the opening chapter, “Take My Virginity (No, Really, Take It)”, Dunham recounts being warned off sex from a memorable episode of My So-Called Life. (Here as elsewhere, Girls fans will immediately recognize details that Dunham plucked from her life and incorporated into the show’s characters.) In the following chapter, “Platonic Bed Sharing: A Great Idea (for People Who Hate Themselves)” Dunham, now in college, reflects on a boy named Jared who started it all:

He was the first thing I noticed at the New School orientation, leaning against the wall talking to a girl with a buzz cut—his anime eyes, his flared women’s jeans, his thick helmet of Prince Valiant hair. He was the first guy I’d seen in Keds, and I was moved by the confidence it took for him to wear delicate lady shoes. I was moved by his entire being. . . .
. . . . Every time I spotted him I’d think to myself, That is one hot piece of ass.

Dunham concludes the chapter with notes on who it’s ok and not ok to share a bed with; while not at all formulaic in structure nor content, this section is a microcosm of her intent to save us from her mistakes, ones that led at times to eroded self-confidence or anxiety.

Not That Kind of Girl takes a while to devour; readers will have to break often for consuming fits of laughter. Dunham describes an event at school: “The computers just show up one day . . . Everyone is buzzing, but I am immediately suspicious. What is so great about our hall being full of ugly squat robots?” At age nineteen she endures an “ill-fated evening of lovemaking” with the lone campus Republican, in which a condom winds up in the dorm room tree. She writes of another college fling, “We had slept together a few times before he ruined it all by getting into a freezing dorm shower, then hurling himself, nude, upon my unmade bed, screaming ‘I WANNA KNOW WHERE DA GOLD AT!’ (He then ruined it further by ceasing contact with me.)”

The most affecting and provocative parts of the book, however, are about her consuming romances. There was a chef (à la the chef in Tiny Furniture) who wrote cryptic emails in response to her thoughtful notes: “His were brief, and I could read both nothing and everything into them.” Their predictable yet painful break-up taught her, “The end never comes when you think it will. It’s always ten steps past the worst moment, then a weird turn to the left.” And while one’s twenties may be a time in which we want to feel like we’re getting away with something—dodging a bar tab, having casual sex, etc., Dunham shares some cautionary insights:

I thought that I was smart enough, practical enough, to separate what Joaquin said I was from what I knew I was. The way I saw it, I was fully capable of being treated with indifference that bordered on disdain while maintaining a strong sense of self-respect. I obeyed his commands, sure that I could fulfill this role while still protecting the sacred place inside of me that knew I deserved more. Different. Better.
But that isn’t how it works. When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself. You are not made up of compartments! You are one whole person! . . . This is so simple. But I tried so hard to make it complicated.

On a lighter, but no less complex note, Dunham shares her first encounter with her current boyfriend Jack: “Then he appeared. Gap toothed, Sculpey faced, glasses like a cartoon, so earnest I was suspicious, and so witty I was scared. I saw him standing there, yellow cardigan and hunched shoulders, and thought: Look, there is my friend.”

Dunham is a natural writer who seems to have pen in hand during every experience. She writes candidly about so much, letting us in on the process of her strong, analytical mind while discussing topics such as being raised by benevolent, feminist, “downtown rabble-rouser” parents, her hot and cold relationship with school, her gynecological conditions, how sex is damagingly depicted in movies, how she reconfigured her life after college, and “Emails I Would Send If I Were One Ounce Crazier/Angrier/Braver.”

Especially flawless descriptions distill Dunham’s experience of her liberal arts college, where she joined the staff of the alternative newspaper:

Toward the beginning of my Grape career Mike [the editor] and I dirty-danced at a party, his knee wedged deep between my legs, a fact he seemed not to remember at the next staff meeting. He ran The Grape with an iron fist, verbally abusing underlings right and left, but I passed muster and he often invited me to sit with him in the cafeteria, where he and his tiny Jewish sidekick, Goldblatt, ate plates piled high with lo mein, veggie burgers, and every kind of dry, dry cake.

But looking back she observes, “I didn’t drink in the essence of the classroom. I didn’t take legible notes or dance all night. I thought I would marry my boyfriend and grow old and sick of him. I thought I would keep my friends, and we’d make different, new memories. None of that happened. Better things happened. Then why I am I so sad?”

So much of a woman’s life is about timing, and Dunham captures the moment. We thank her for living “in a world that is almost compulsively free of secrets.” For gravitating back, always, toward “making things.” For the kind reminder not to strive for normalcy, or weirdness, or anything aside from an exploration of selfhood and a commitment to empathy. For tackling the hardest task, telling one’s own stories honestly. For the knowledge that she will continue to comfort and surprise us.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015

Waldo & Magic, Inc.

waldoandmagicRobert A. Heinlein
Baen ($14)

by Ryder W. Miller

Waldo & Magic, Inc., by science fiction pioneer Robert Heinlein, presents two novellas from the early 1940s that were breakthrough works at that time. Heinlein is more famous for the novels he published during the 1960s, especially Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), but he also helped to usher in the Golden Age of Science Fiction that followed the era of the pulps. These short novels are examples of that earlier work.

In the introduction, Heinlein biographer William H. Patterson, Jr. writes, “‘Waldo’ and ‘Magic, Inc.’ are products of the first flush of Heinlein’s personal innovation, welcomed at the time as an escape from the pulp formulas of ’30s space opera.” These books fit more easily into the rubric of “science fantasy” instead of solely science fiction or fantasy, and they are suitable for both bright children and adults out for vicarious fun.

“Waldo” concerns the manufacture of machines named after the inventor that can perform all manner of feats; the reader meets the inventor and tags along for an intriguing tale. “Magic, Inc.” deals with outfits that sell magic as a commodity, and takes place in a strange, archaic-seeming future that not everybody likes. One character complains:

The country had gotten along all right in the old days before magic had become popular and commercially widespread. It was unquestionably a headache in many ways, even leaving out our present troubles with racketeers and monopolists.

The book features a lot of smoky back-room talk from the likes of business “movers and shakers.” There is plenty of action, but what stands out more is the rumination of the characters—it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon, but readers can get lost in this talk.

L. Sprague de Camp admired Heinlein’s “prodigality of invention, his shrewd grasp of human nature and his versatile knowledge of law, politics, business and science.” Fans of Heinlein are in for a treat with these two short novels, which have stayed in publication for over sixty years. Heinlein’s universe was large, and while these stories may not be signature works, they explore his earlier sensibility and are a reflection of his time.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015

Daughters of Your Century

daughters2Dan Thomas-Glass
Furniture Press Books ($15.99)

by Chris Martin

The poems in Dan Thomas-Glass’ first full-length book are formally agile without ever losing their ethical vigor. Ethics are the central concern of his writing and this concern is magnified through the lens of fatherhood, which he seamlessly, though never quietly, incorporates into his lyrical explorations. In this way, Thomas-Glass takes his place beside Farid Matuk (My Daughter La Chola) and Dana Ward (The Crisis of Infinite Worlds) in reinventing the Dad poem, or, as he writes to his daughters: “Kate, Sonia I wanted to write / a poem for you that a mother would write,” not usurping the writing of mothers, but endeavoring to live up to it.

Many great poets offer permissions of various kinds—formal, tonal, thematic—but the permissions offered in this book all boil down to a single affirmation: “Here’s to permission to care, amen.” In this affirmation, permission gives way to its higher calling, mission. It is with great care that Thomas-Glass fords our contemporary world, not side-stepping drones but gathering them up with his daughter’s unicorns and the breakfast cereal, moving forward in the labor of locating “Some honest brightness that could give us form.” This recalls Alice Notley’s great line: “I keep trying to be honest in this glittering wind.” And Notley is no doubt a key spirit of this book, as is Bernadette Mayer, poets who wrote Mom poems the way they wrote (and write) all poems, full of care and outrage and genius.

The contemporary world is fully alive in this book, as it must be. It is the air Thomas-Glass and his daughters share, and nowhere is this more evident than when it’s filled with music. Thomas-Glass’ earlier chapbook, The Great American Beatjack Volume 1 (Perfect Lovers Press, 2012), presented a mash-up of voices, breaking down the invisible line between lyric and lyric as Biggie drops verses on Anne Bradstreet and vice versa. In Daughters of Your Century, lyric becomes the root of conversation: “Sonia wondered if / Frank Ocean means / it when he says / he says I don’t like / you.” He says he says and we wonder about it when he sings. We live in our songs and they bring life to our poems: “In one / now I sang & typed at once— / is that wrong?” Love songs, love poems: “This / is my real love for you / as I lived it, in exactly / these colors.” The heart of this book throbs like a song, past embarrassment and toward a history of feeling; it also provides a fitting soundtrack to parenthood, which is simultaneously ecstasy and heartbreak. We need poems like these. We need them to tell us how we felt, especially in the early days when being too alive obliterates memory, and moments can’t accommodate the onrush and overflow of feeling. In Daughters of Your Century, Thomas-Glass writes against the loss of it, of them, “this small / wild beast, crammed into these moments as / she precisely must be.”

Despite the so-called “cramming” this book actually feels quite airy, with plenty of room for grace and finesse. And despite (or because of) the refrain-like evocations of a dark war bristling with crosshairs and drone strikes, the poems also brim with light and stars. “Light is an intersection / with Sonia shouting to the stars / Are you listening? / Are you listening?” And: “how reaching out we touch a light / that is brighter than the blankest slate.” And speaking of the stars that are us: “They watched / & felt their cores explode / At such impossible hapless grace.” It is a book about the war dead and the newly and dearly alive, presence and absence together leavening belief, allowing all that’s incommensurate and beyond resolve to suffuse the labor of song:

& Sonia Alma everyone
I’m writing this in part to tell you that if you ever wonder what you’ve done in yr life
& everyone does wonder sooner or later
You have been grace to me
Something more than a miracle

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015

The Book of Strange New Things

bookofstrangenewthingsMichel Faber
Hogarth ($28)

by James Naiden

Futuristic fiction tends to be believable in that none of us knows what the world will be like in half a century, and absurd because the present is all we have by which to judge the plausibility of a fantastic tale. Such was the case in 1888 when Edward Bellamy published Looking Backward, considering American life—or English or French, perhaps—as it might be in the year 2000, a distant lodestar at the time. Perhaps Bellamy, who did not see the twentieth century, would have written more if he had lived longer. He certainly would have liked Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel Brave New World, about twenty-sixth century England, and 1984, George Orwell’s acerbically utopian depiction of life in a distant year.

Now we have Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, written in a time of stress and grief for the author, whose wife died of cancer in the summer of 2014—this novel is dedicated to her, understandably. Faber was born in Holland, educated in Australia, and now lives in Scotland. He recently let it be known that this volume, his third work of fiction, will be his final novel, a vow one hopes he won’t obey because of his talent and perseverance in the art of the long novel.

The Book of Strange New Things is an admirable tale, although one bogged down by verbal excesses (it contains many references in the undecipherable language of another universe) and a seemingly endless fascination with bodily functions. In Faber’s narrative, the mysterious entity “USIC” has recruited an English missionary named Peter Leigh—a thirty-something Christian convert with a shady background of drug taking, thievery, and other misdeeds—to travel in a “Jump” to Oasis, a distant planet perhaps not in the same universe as Earth. The Bible is known on Oasis as “the book of strange new things” and those natives that take Peter seriously are named “Jesus Lovers” by number:

He took up his position at the pulpit, and rested his fingerprints on the burnished toffee-colored surface where he might spread out his notes. The pulpit was slightly too low, as though the Oasans had made it for as tall a creature they could imagine but, in his absence, had still underestimated his height. Its design was modeled on the spectacular carved pulpits of ancient European cathedrals, where a massive leatherbound Bible might lie on the spread wingspan of an oaken eagle.

While Peter attempts to build a church with the help of those who believe, he is fraught with disturbing messages from his wife back in England via “the Shoot,” a system of communication which resembles the Internet. She has gradually been diminished by her lack of faith as she is beset with one crisis after another, and her messages reflect a deep longing for her husband, as do his for her. There are some fellow Earthlings at the USIC base with whom Peter gets along well enough, but still there is a lack of empathy as everyone has problems on this distant planet.

There are frequent quotations from the Bible, principally the New Testament, as Peter and his wife communicate; there are also references to “earth” when the author refers to Oasan ground, which is not our Earth, supposedly. As the saga sprawls out, one gets the feeling that it might have been compressed by a good deal to its benefit, for while Faber’s prose is smooth, the occasional flaws and inconsistencies are noticeable. However, despite its length and lack of careful editing, The Book of Strange New Things is a credible story, especially given its futuristic and not-quite-utopian underpinnings. One can only hope that this book is indeed not Michel Faber’s final novel—he’s too inventive and good a writer to quit while only in his mid-fifties.

Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore
Purchase this book at your local independent bookstore.
Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015

Spring 2015


Of Film and Smoke: An Interview with Iain Sinclair
Interview by Paul McRandle
The British writer and filmmaker talks about epic journeys, American Smoke, and escaping London with John Clare.

Tapping into a Rural Religion: an Interview with Nick McRae
Interview by Connor Bjotvedt
Poet McRae discusses his award-winning chapbook Mountain Redemption, which focuses on the role of tradition and the emergence of Christian religions in mountain towns.


Am I an African?
Nigerian poet Aderibigbe explores the question: Can blackness equate Africanness?
An essay by D.M. Aderibigbe

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
Laura Ingalls Wilder
Wilder’s autobiography is a fascinating study in memory, rationalization, novelization, and the re-fashioning of history, as well as literary marketability.
Essay by Wayne Scott

Two Books on The Beast
Reviewed by Spencer Dew

Aleister Crowley and the Temptation of Politics by Marco Pasi
Aleister Crowley: The Beast in Berlin: Art, Sex, and Magick in the Weimar Republic by Tobias Churton
Two new books take a closer look at occult hero and gadfly Aleister Crowley—through the prism of his politics and his time in Weimar Berlin.

Sketches of AWP
Documentary drawings by Minneapolis artist Anita White of the riot of literary love that was AWP 2015


Citizen: An American Lyric
Claudia Rankine
Rankine has created a text that blends poetry, narrative, essay, and visual art, going even beyond the publisher’s “Poetry/Essays” label into something far more complex and moving: an American Lyric. Reviewed by J.G. McClure

Lupa and Lamb
Susan Hawthorne
Hawthorne is a master-weaver, and her sixth book of poetry takes strands of myth, history, and new inventions to make a strong fabric of sisterhood. Reviewed by Heather Taylor Johnson

Daughters of Your Century
Dan Thomas-Glass
The poems of Thomas-Glass’s first full-length collection concern ethics as magnified through the lens of fatherhood. Reviewed by Chris Martin

Post Subject: A Fable
Oliver de la Paz
This collection of epistolary prose poems offers intriguing glimpses of a fallen empire. Reviewed by John Bradley

Reckless Lovely
Martha Silano
Silano’s breathless collection begins with the Big Bang and goes on to explore a quirky metaphysics. Reviewed by Janet McCann

Heimrad Bäcker
The spare letterpress cover of Seascape matches the sparse language of the multi-paged concrete poem inside. Reviewed by Rebecca Hart Olander


The First Bad Man
Miranda July
The First Bad Man displays July’s strength and particular delicacy, echoing character qualities and themes that will be familiar to her fans. Reviewed by Erin Lewenauer

Family Furnishings: Selected Stories 1995-2014
Alice Munro
In this magnificent collection of stories, one can freshly discover why Munro was awarded the Novel Prize in Literature in 2013. Reviewed by Keith Abbott

Reb Livingston
Livingston reinvents fictional character and narrative pattern while embracing the perplexities of prevarication, the imaginative value of absurdity, and the delights of wild artifice. Reviewed by John Parras

The Book of Strange New Things
Michel Faber
Faber’s futuristic tale of a Christian missionary sent to a distant planet to preach is his third and, according to him, final novel. Reviewed by James Naiden

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing
Eimear McBride
This debut novel begins with a jolt to the reader’s sense of language and reality. Reviewed by Alex Brubaker

Waldo & Magic, Inc.
Robert A. Heinlein
Two short novels exemplify Heinlein’s work as he ushered in the Golden Age of Science Fiction that followed the era of pulps. Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller


No Simple Highway: A Cultural History of the Grateful Dead
Peter Richardson
Richardson’s biography gives a broader cultural history of The Dead, who were influenced by many of the famous icons of the 1960s and were bohemians before the term “hippie” was widely accepted. Reviewed by Ryder W. Miller

I’m Very Into You: Correspondence 1995-1996
Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark
Between the mind games and authentic encounters in this collection of emails, the reader will find some potential for Acker’s words to transcend the grave. Reviewed by Spencer Dew

Women Who Make a Fuss: The Unfaithful Daughters of Virginia Woolf
Isabelle Stengers and Vinciane Despret
This complicated book, which takes its premise from Three Guineas, Woolf’s 1938 treatise on academia and the feminine, is a response to and an extension of the latter’s imperative: “Think we must.” Reviewed by Kelsey Irving Beson

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”
Lena Dunham
Dunham’s memoir-in-essays displays a special kind of bravery as she splashes from one anecdote to the next. Reviewed by Erin Lewenauer

Thermonuclear Monarchy: Choosing Between Democracy and Doom
Elaine Scarry
Scarry’s trenchant new works suggests that since the dawn of the nuclear age, the U.S. has stumbled away from its democratic ideals. Reviewed by Robert M Keefe

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
Naomi Klein
At the heart of Klein’s latest book is how economic lust and a broken political system have precipitated our planet's climate catastrophe. Reviewed by Eliza Murphy

Rain Taxi Online Edition Spring 2015 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2015