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The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting

The Tragedy and Glory of Growing Up
Evanna Lynch
Ballantine Books ($18)

by Lindsey Jodts

Harry Potter fans’ initial interest in The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting may be to dive into the story of the actress behind one of the franchise’s most delightful and curious characters. Surely a character as carefree and unapologetically herself as Luna Lovegood must be played by someone just as delightful and whimsical. But from the start (as cued by the subtitle), readers are instead drawn into the world of a charming but complex girl becoming a woman, and the book will impress readers with its witty but tender commentary far beyond any behind-the-scenes secrets.

Evanna Lynch offers here a very personal account of becoming aware of herself as a human in a body and the subsequent journey she took to avoid adulthood at all costs. She carries readers with her through her war with perfectionism and profound sense of unworthiness during her years-long battle with anorexia, an illness around which she forms not only an identity, but a sense of security. Her candid account of the mind of a person with anorexia is both brutal and insightful, told with equal parts sarcastic wit and profound empathy. She recounts with almost jarring clarity stories of her medical treatment, family dynamics, and return to creative exploration as she bounced between the poles of existence and uncertainty.

Lynch does spend time telling the Harry Potter portions of her story, but she doesn’t become the Luna that fans came to know and love until nearly two thirds of the way through. She never, in fact, becomes the tidily recovered former anorexic the media portrayed her to be either. To paint her this way was a profound injustice to her journey and the complicated woman that she is. The length and wordiness of her memoir may seem intimidating initially, but Lynch makes no mistake in her choice of language as she tells her story on her terms. Every word, every aside, every snarky observation and gut-wrenching moment of vulnerability is worth it.

A significant amount of criticism of the treatment of eating disorders, and mental health treatment in general, makes it clear from the first pages that this book is not a “how-to” guide to recovery from disordered eating. The author’s careful description of her struggles, and her intentional lack of detail around weight, measurement, and behaviors, are all purposeful attempts to make this book about her journey and not about becoming a “better anorexic” (a phrase that can mean very different things). Lynch’s insight into the needs of a person struggling with disordered eating to feel connected to presence, purpose, and a more creative sense of the world is much more valuable.

Whether eliciting loud cackles, grief-filled groans, or hopeful tears, The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting makes readers keenly aware of the power of our own inner voice to control the war between contempt and celebration of the body and all its creative, embodied expressions. The final pages of Lynch’s memoir describe the glory of her journey perfectly: “My negative thoughts interrupt my practice rudely, telling me it’s impossible, that it was pathetic to imagine my woefully ordinary body could ever manage such impressive feats, but I no longer indiscriminately believe this voice . . . I know something I didn’t before: that secretly, though we may never discover them all, the body contains miracles.”


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022

How to Order the Universe

María José Ferrada
Tin House ($19.95)

by Bethany Catlin

María José Ferrada’s debut novel, How to Order the Universe, unfolds like a litany of palpable sonnets. Ferrada organizes her work in short, breathable chapters, each of which is constructed like a poem without ever feeling pretentious. Each chapter retains a quality of self-consciousness, however, reminiscent of a clean one-liner or that tone-shifting couplet at the end of a sonnet.

Eight-year-old protagonist M and her father, D, have teamed up as traveling salespeople in 1970’s Chile. They sell hardware under the brand name Kramp, and the Kramp catalog quickly becomes M’s bible. D teaches M about salesmanship, the value of self-presentation, quid pro quo, and the necessity of pragmatism in all things. M, meanwhile, learns about silence: the effect of a child’s gaze on a business transaction, the power of feigning innocence or ignorance, and the ease of wordlessly agreeing with her father—including about the fact that it would be best that they keep her recurrent truancy from her mother.

Much of the book follows the trajectory of M and D’s relationship from father-daughter to employer-employee. She negotiates herself a going rate, and he uses the presence of his daughter to soften potential buyers and frustrated customers. Despite the quiet self-interest that D studiously passes on to his daughter, the heart of this story is the unspoken loveliness of their partnership. She draws him pictures of flowers and beetles. He draws her fish and whales. Over their travels, she slips into his sample case “letters of this kind: ‘I like being your assistant’” and D responds “with phrases like: ‘I’m pleased!’” Ferrada recreates that joyful moment when you, a child, are treated like an adult and a person by someone who is already both of those things. D lets her drink coffee in the evening, smoke cigarettes, skip school, and spend time with other salesmen who say things like “sonofabitch” and “fucking whore.” But he also tries to build her up with warm tea, compensatory gifts, and the respect of abstaining from sentimentalities.

Ferrada’s book is one of those that offers itself as part of a grey area verging on YA. She trusts her young narrator with the hard edges of reality while still maintaining the authorial distance to convey that quintessential coming-of-age disorientation as a young person tries to figure out how to order their universe. In Ferrada’s hands, one of the limitations of the genre becomes its greatest tool: the shrouding of the reader from the climactic moment—whether it be sex, violence, or violation—parallels the phenomenon of los desaparecidos taking place silently in the background of D and M’s story. So many people disappeared. In Argentina at the time, the military junta was flying planes out over the Atlantic and dropping live bodies. In Chile, M’s countrymen were quietly sent to the mass graves and political prisons that gave Pinochet his infamy. People ceased to exist, and anyone, including some of M’s fellow professionals, who sought to uncover anything about the disappeared would soon disappear themselves.

In the sparse, poetic style of contemporaries like Jenny Offill, Ferrada captures the sleight of hand that was civil society in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship, the disappearing act of M’s childhood, and the uncanny reality where everyone knows something is wrong all along.


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022

The Year the City Emptied

Daisy Fried
Flood Editions ($15.95)

by Patrick James Dunagan

Daisy Fried’s The Year the City Emptied presents her take on bringing the poems of Baudelaire into the contemporary North American tongue. At once boisterous and witty, there’s also more than a fair bit of gloominess cast over the project, as Fried was writing during short breaks from caring for her husband, poet Jim Quinn, as he lay “slowly dying of a cruel disease that attacked his body and mind” in their Philadelphia rowhouse throughout the beginning of the Covid shutdown. In some poems she throws shade on unhelpful bureaucratic healthcare officials and reflects upon anti-police protests rocking the city. Rising above the gloom, however, is the work’s overall vibrancy, making it not only an engaging read but also a first-class practicum in poetic assimilation from one language and time into another.

Any sense of pretentious drollery regarding her own bona fides is immediately dispensed with: “I don’t know French well and I don’t like Baudelaire much.” Yet Fried is drawn to the work because, as she says in the introduction, “his disgust is glorious, and diagnostic,” and notably worth our while: “We in America could use more romantic self-disgust.” Baudelaire’s malaise—much like that of Poe, who he translated and heralded—provides a kind of countering to Whitman’s celebratory self-prophesizing, an Americanism mirrored by the self-congratulatory nature of much of today’s social media. Fried likewise revels in the morose monotony of living:

The limping days are so fucking long
Snowed under by years and years and years and years.
Say it: Boredom born of apathy
Achieves immortality. Body, you’re nothing:
Bag of dread and granite crag, magma cooked,
Old sphinx in a fog, mumbling to self,
Forgotten by the whole giddy world,
Haranguing in the dwindling light.

from “Temper” [2] [after Baudelaire’s “Spleen 2”]

What more perfect company could have been asked for during the stress of the pandemic and the beloved’s slow death? To immerse herself in poems calling on her to bring them into her own tongue creates a kind of escape:

Immense abyss,
Lull and lullaby me.
Doldrums,
Mirror my despair!

from “Music” [after Baudelaire’s “La Musique”]

This is how a poet lives and works with language, both her own and foreign: thinking through its ebbs and flows, interacting in concurrent fashion with past and future ranges discovered across the scope of its possibilities in the present. And there are no rules, only markers for what needs be moved beyond: “I’m sure—no, I hope—I got many things wrong about the French. I take that as an achievement.” When the poem has all that is required, accuracy takes a backseat. With The Year the City Emptied, Fried has given the poem Everything.


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022

A Constellation of Ghosts: A Speculative Memoir with Ravens

Laraine Herring
Regal House Publishing ($17.95)

by Kelly Lydick

How do we comprehend life, especially when faced with death? What does it mean to be empowered while being pulled into a place where unknown forces reign supreme? How do we describe the ineffable in mere words? Laraine Herring’s treatise on life and death, A Constellation of Ghosts, begins with a diagnosis (cancer) and a recollection of a father’s heart attack at age seven. The world for the narrator changes in an instant, and a new trajectory of life immediately begins:

     A raven appears between the panes, right leg shorter than the left, a lit Pall Mall cigarette clipped in its beak. . . . The raven cocks its head, its right eye finding yours, and winks as it steps through the keyhole, turns back for the dead cigarette, and then hops to your bare feet.
     You reach your hand through the hole and touch the exterior pane, the world on the other side of it increasingly unfamiliar. You retreat and the raven fans its wings and leaps to your shoulder and its cool breath raises the hair on your still-naked flesh.
     You have no words for this.

Thus begins the narrator’s relationship with the raven, a symbol for and mirror to the narrator’s existential searching.

When faced with death, or near-death, most people ask the same question: Why? But others, like this narrator, decide to learn from the opportunity and see the light through the darkness. There is power in words, and Herring taps into that power to choose how her life’s trajectory will go. She begins a dialogue with her deceased father, whom she comes to believe has taken the form of a raven to interface with her on the physical plane through this challenge in her life:

     “Tell me, daughter, are you so attached to me that you will die as well or now that you are at your crossroads will you reconsider what you’ve held and toss it up and down and out so you can see from sea to shining sea what still can be? Are you ready? Shall we write a script?”
     His unpunctuated speech unspools your throat. All you’d ever wanted was one more chance to talk with him and so you whisper, while Shadow-you is filling out forms and calling your mother and researching words, while her cells are eating themselves, you whisper old-new words, “Daddy! Yes, let’s make a play!”
     “It will be a cast of only four: you and me and my mother and my father, and we will speak until there are no more words between us,” says Raven. “And then you can decide the ending.”

In alternating chapters, Raven and the narrator together weave a dream-like story, a form that feels appropriate for the topic of life and death as well as proportionate to the emotional magnitude of the narrator’s experience. Herring uses this weaving technique to display a return to an almost shamanic state of consciousness.

With existential realization comes a kind of primal recognition—a stripping down of sensory experiences, values, and beliefs, to determine what is at the core of importance. This is what Raven asks of the narrator, and what the narrator asks of herself in these dire circumstances. Herring makes clear that the narratives we form to create stories are not so different than the narratives we each form about the self, and that both are more fluid that she once believed:

I would traverse the obstacles, nearly losing everything only to find what I was seeking was within me all along and the closing credits would roll. But there’s no brass-laden soaring score to redeem me now. No a-ha moment when the audience magically understands the meaning behind the struggles and can relax, at ease knowing the heroine has suffered bravely and justifiably and has been redeemed through that suffering. Now, the audience understands, now we can love her freely. She has suffered for her wisdom.
     This narrative is false. This structure is a lie.

Beneath these narratives, the answers to her existential questions lie—figuratively and literally. In searching for self, the narrator also begins to come to terms with the grief she holds for her departed father. In a meandering way, she moves through surgery, hospitalization, dreams, and her interactions with Raven to find answers to big questions: What is time? What is a ghost? How does a ghost move through physical space? What is grief? In what ways does grief haunt? What does it mean to be alive? What meaning does life have when faced with the prospect of death?

A journey of mythical, shamanic proportions, A Constellation of Ghosts reminds readers that words do have power, that personal transformation is possible, and that sometimes an encounter with death is exactly the thing one needs to fully confront life.


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022

Harrow

Joy Williams
Knopf ($26)

by David Peak

Often the most memorable depictions of the world’s end—Michael Haneke’s film Time of the Wolf, Cormac McCarthy’s survivalist novel The Road, the surreal apocalyptic futures of Brian Evenson—offer no easy explanation of how things have come undone. More important is the mythmaking involved in filling in the blanks and what that might say about the stories themselves. Lately, it seems as if each day catalogs new catastrophes both natural and man-made. When apocalypse does arrive, many of us likely won’t recognize it for what it is. Perhaps it’s already here.

Joy Williams’s fifth novel, Harrow, begins with Lamb, a teenager whose mother believes she died as an infant and saw a realm beyond—“some frightful chaos of non-being that nevertheless contained an observable yet incomprehensible future to which we would all be subjected”—and that her experience of the afterlife has given her a unique vision that could benefit others. Hoping to nurture this gift, she enrolls Lamb in a boarding school for special students, “an old sanatorium surrounded by beetle-ravaged pines and staffed with nervous self-regard by arguably the cleverest minds in the country.”

From there, the plot points don’t matter as much as the way the story moves: in leaps and bounds, littering a trail of sparkling, wondrous detail in its wake. Lamb’s mother disappears while seeking spiritual awareness. In searching for her, Lamb finds her way to a motel in Florida, where a group of elderly extremists hatch plots, speak in cryptic dialogue, and ultimately seek to punish those responsible for the end of the world. “They did not consider themselves ‘terrorists,’ reserving that word for the bankers and builders, the industrial engineers, purveyors of war and the market, it goes without saying, the exterminators and excavators, the breeders and consumers of every stripe, those locusts of clattering, clacking hunger.”

With its erratic pacing, fractured narrative, and shifting point of view, Harrow demands close reading, and it thoroughly rewards those who put in the work. Williams expertly constructs vivid scenes rendered in rich, prismatic language. One particularly memorable moment involves a birthday party at a bowling alley, aptly named “Paradise Lanes,” where endless pitchers of martinis result in crackling, frenetic dialogue. When it comes to characters, Williams has a gift for distilling an entire novel’s worth of ideas into a handful of pages. Several seemingly minor characters are given rich and intriguing backstories.

In his essay “He Stuttered,” Gilles Deleuze wrote, “A great writer is always like a foreigner in the language which he expresses himself, even if this is his native tongue.” This principle can be seen perfectly in Williams, whose writing is frequently electric on the sentence level; language itself is often the object of focus in Harrow. There’s much talk of words and names, whether they’re the right ones or the wrong ones, whether things will be remembered as they were or as they could have been. It isn’t immediately clear that the titular word refers to the tool that breaks up the surface of soil; considering that characters often speak of purgatory and judgment, it could refer to the Harrowing of Hell, the time between Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Within the world of the book, however, it’s obvious that the symbolism goes beyond what a literal reader may assume: “Representations of the harrow are in all government facilities that remain and homes are encouraged to display the image as well. It started out as a bit of nostalgia but devolved into a sign of respect, of self-acknowledgment. No one gives thanks to it of course, just respect. It’s a unifying symbol. Says, We will not be overcome.”

In Harrow, it’s possible that the societal symbols and signs that replace reality, as Jean Baudrillard theorized, have paved the way to a new human experience, one that is still grasping for the language to explain itself. We know the words are out there to explain what is happening to us, if only we could find them and put them in the right order.

Perhaps the broken narratives and fever dreams that form so much of communication today truly do reflect the world we find ourselves in. They might even come to resemble a wildlife crossing beneath a highway, a place not fit for humans, and one whose purpose has been forever lost in Harrow. As Williams writes, “The tunnel had been part of an old mitigation effort. Mitigation. No one knew the meaning of the word now. Words died like everything else.”


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Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022

Summer 2022

Check back as we add more features and reviews in the next months!

Fiction Reviews:

How to Order the Universe
María José Ferrada, trans. Elizabeth Bryer
María José Ferrada’s debut novel unfolds like a litany of palpable sonnets as it follows eight-year-old protagonist M and her father, D, who have teamed up as traveling salespeople in 1970s Chile. Reviewed by Bethany Catlin

Harrow
Joy Williams
Joy Williams’s writing is famed for being electric on the sentence level, and language itself is often the object of focus in her new novel Harrow, the tale of a lost Lamb in a ravaged country. Reviewed by David Peak

Poetry Reviews:

The Year the City Emptied
Daisy Fried
Baudelaire’s poems call on Daisy Fried to bring them into her own tongue in The Year the City Emptied, a first-class practicum in poetic assimilation from one language and time into another. Reviewed by Patrick James Dunagan

I Hope This Finds You Well
Kate Baer

In response to ugly responses to her Instagram blog, Kate Baer turned them into poems, erasing the negativity until hope bloomed on the page.  Reviewed by Nancy Beauregard

Nonfiction Reviews:

The Opposite of Butterfly Hunting
Evanna Lynch

The former “Harry Potter” actor tells her story on her own terms, and in describing her struggles with disordered eating, displays how one's inner voice can control both contempt and celebration of the body. Reviewed by Lindsey Jodts

A Constellation of Ghosts
Laraine Herring

Depicting a journey of mythical, shamanic proportions, Laraine Herring's A Constellation of Ghosts: A Speculative Memoir with Ravens poses a key question: How do we comprehend life when faced with death? Reviewed by Kelly Lydick

I Hope This Finds You Well

Kate Baer
Harper Perennial ($12)

by Nancy Beauregard

When bestselling poet Kate Baer started an Instagram blog, she never expected negative responses from strangers and internet trolls. Upon receiving messages like “SHOW YOUR TITS OR GET OFF THE INTERNET,” she simply blocked or deleted them, but as the pandemic took hold and she expressed more of her opinions on social issues, more of these kinds of messages flooded her inbox. Some were positive, but others were downright ugly. Instead of deleting them, Baer played with their words, erasing negativity until hope bloomed on the page. I Hope This Finds You Well is Baer’s resulting collection of erasure poems drawn from the misogyny found in the bowels of the internet.

Themes of politics, body image, and motherhood fill the left-hand side of pages where only names have been redacted from the original message, while on the right side, Baer’s erasures are juxtaposed, creating spaces for contemplation and healing. The first message, titled “Re: Women in the White House,” is from a writer who states their criteria for women in political positions, e.g., “Women who respect the traditional family structure as a wife and mother” and “God wants what’s best for women which is why he will have a hand in this next election.” Baer erases words of bias and supremacy to craft a different theme:

I have seen
women
love                            this country
            while

  suffering from
         its
persecution


Who better to lead us
         into the coming days

In another message titled “Re: Fat Girl Smiling in a Bathing Suit,” the poet is asked by a podcaster what her husband thinks of the photos she posts. In response, Baer erases text until what is left is her truth:

my

husband
sees
       my
  body
and
    gives

Thanks for the opportunity to
know                       Her

In a positive message that closes the collection, “Re: My Daughter’s Struggles,” a father writes to Baer how he found one of her “repurposed” poems on a friend’s post and loved the way she had changed the original message. He expresses concern for his daughter and the messages she receives on the internet: “I’m horrified at what harassment women must simply accept as the ‘price to pay’ for existing online.” He feels helpless to stop it from happening but hopes that in the future his daughter will see that words can be marshalled to kinder intent:

my                   daughter’s
  



  “price to pay”
           


           
                    touches some
unknowable thing inside me

I’ll never
know what she knows. But
        I can hope she’s
able to see


herself
and repurpose
       harm

   in       hopeless times

I Hope This Finds You Well feels like a prayer, a provision of blank space for all to read, take a breath, and find strength in these confusing, turbulent times of negativity and hate.


Click here to purchase this book at your local independent bookstore

Rain Taxi Online Edition Summer 2022 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2022

Volume 27, Number 2, Summer 2022 (#106)

To purchase issue #106 using Paypal, click here.

INTERVIEWS:

Sparrow: A Jokester Who Resembles a Surrealist  |  interviewed by Jim Feast
Robert Anthony Gibbons: From Hughes to Hurston to O’Hara  |  interviewed by David Moscovich

FEATURES:

Genius Gives Birth: Kerouac at 100  |  by Steve Matuszak
The New Life  |  a comic by Gary Sullivan

PLUS: cover art by Jeffrey Scherer

She Lay Beside Still Water by Jeffrey Scherer

NONFICTION REVIEWS:

The Unwritten Book: An Investigation  |  Samantha Hunt  |  by Elizabeth McNeill
Lost & Found  |  Kathryn Schultz  |  by Kevin Brown
Names for Light: A Family History  |  Thirii Myo Kyaw Myint  |  by Trisha Collopy
For the Good of All Do Not Destroy the Birds |  Jennifer Moxley  |  by Dustin Michael
Dirt Road Revival: How To Rebuild Rural Politics and Why Our Future Depends On It  |  Chloe Maxmin and Canyon Woodward  |  by Thomas Rain Crowe
South To America: A Journey Below the Mason-Dixon to Understand the Soul of a Nation  |  Imani Perry  |  by Jonathan Shipley
Rip Tales: Jay DeFeo’s Estocada & Other Pieces  |  Jordan Stein  |  by Patrick James Dunagan
George Rickey: A Life in Balance  |  Belinda Rathbone  |  by Richard Kostelanetz


FICTION REVIEWS:

A New Name: Septology VI–VII  |  Jon Fosse  |  by Poul Houe
Chasing Homer  |  László Krasnahorkai  |  by Evan Burkin
A Beam of Sunlight in the Deep Forest  |  Édouard Schuré  |  by Yunus Tuncel
Sea of Tranquility  |   Emily St. John Mandel  |  by Allan Vorda
An Intent to Commit  |  Bernie Lambek  |  by George Longenecker
The Wrong Kind of Woman  |  Sarah McCraw Crow  |  by Ray Marsocci
Salka Valka  |  Halldór Laxness  |  by Rick Henry
Elephants in Our Yard  |  Meral Kureyshi  |  by Greg Bem


POETRY REVIEWS:

Be Brave to Things: The Uncollected Poetry and Plays of Jack Spicer  |  Jack Spicer  |  by Patrick James Dunagen
Revolutionary Letters: 50th Anniversary Edition  |  Diane di Prima  |  by Elisabeth Workman
Bamboophobia   |  Ko Ko Thett  |  by Greg Bem
In An Attic Palace Beneath A Slaughtered Sky  |  John Greiner  |  by Kevin Hinman
Mother Is A Body  |  Brandi Katherine Herrera  |  by Alissa Hattman
The Kids  |  Hannah Lowe  |  by John Bradley
The Sound of A Collective Pulse  |  Cristina M. R. Norcross  |  by Erica Goss
Headless John The Baptist Hitchhiking  |  C. T. Salazar  |  by Nick Hilbourn
Ceive  |  B. K. Fischer  |  by Sean Krauss
Instrument for Distributed Empathy Monetization  |  William Lessard  |  by Greg Bem
Ultramarine  |  Wayne Koestenbaum  |  by Patrick Davis


COMICS REVIEWS:

The Projector and Elephant  |  Martin Vaughn-James  |  by M. Kasper

JEFFREY SCHERER

Jeff is an artist living in Portland, Oregon. After working in Germany, France and the United Kingdom as an architect, he co-founded Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle, Ltd Architects in 1981 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He retired in the fall of 2016 after 40+ years pursuing his architectural passion: the library. Jeff's art work expresses his concern about the state of the natural world and the corresponding human condition. He uses his art work to help libraries and other not-for-profit organizations do more in their communities by giving his work for free in exchange for a charitable donation. Jeff serves on the Board of Trustees of the Multnomah County (OR) Library Foundation. See more work at www.schererworks.com!

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