Issue Forty-Three - Winter 2024

What We’re Reading, Winter 2024

By the Editors

Poetry Co-Editor Linda Conroy
I recently read Sigrid Nunez’s The Vulnerables. (2023 by Riverhead Books). Imagine being a writer in New York City early in the pandemic, wandering the streets in guilty enjoyment, not having to do your regular work, but house sitting for a pregnant friend who is unable to return home in time for her delivery. Add to this the fact that the comfortable apartment is not the only thing that needs care. There is a parrot, Eureka, living in one of the rooms, a young unhoused student with previous connection to the home arrives to stay, and in a moment of compassion you loan your own home to a doctor treating pandemic patients.

This is the setting for the novel in which we see not so much what happens to these characters, but follow the narrator’s meandering thinking on the daily events, many of which involve memories of pre-pandemic times, and show that we are all not only vulnerable to the pandemic but to many other influences in this chaotic and violent era. The delightful aspect of this reading is that Nunez has a quirky sense of humor and her writing style reflects the gentle, thoughtful wandering.

Poetry Co-Editor Richard Widerkehr
In the past year I read five books of Elizabeth Strout’s bleak but sometimes amazing stories. I read a poet’s first book published just after he died: First Stars, by Jay Klokker.

Here is Jay’s poem which we published in SHARK REEF and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I find this fourteen-liner both precise and haunting, a bit like an Edward Hopper painting. It draws me in and makes me want to read it again.

Shaving the Ghost
By Jay Klokker
An old man nicks his chin shaving and hears
his dead father sigh, sees his father’s hand
search the cabinet for the fat styptic pencil
that got dumped in the trash fifty years ago.
The man wishes he had that pencil now
and could chalk his bloody chin white
instead of rubbing it numb with an ice cube
and getting stuck with a toilet paper goatee.
The man remembers when his father turned
away saying What’s wrong with you?
But the eyes in the mirror, the deep-set eyes
the man inherited, crinkle at the corners
when he waggles his chin. Hi Dad, he says,
and watches his father’s eyes laugh.
(Copyright Klokker 2023)

Editor Emerita Lorna Reese
Tom Hennen’s Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems. I saw this book at a friend’s house last summer and the poems immediately spoke to me. The fact that it includes a note from Jim Harrison, a longtime favorite writer of mine, resonated. So did the fact that Hennen writes of a nuanced relationship with rural western Minnesota where I grew up, which brought it home to me in a visceral way.

In fiction, I started several beautifully written books but found the content too pessimistic for my sensibilities. Including There, There by Tommy Orange, a Native American perspective on the struggles and complexity of living in urban Oakland, California; Such Kindness by Andre Dubus III, a fine writer, on how to live when you’ve lost everything. I did love and finish Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, which reflects on youthful love, married love and lives folks live before having children.

Strangely, though, I was completely engrossed in Mick Herron’s The Secret Hours, a sort of prequel or companion to his Slough House novels. Anyone who enjoyed John LeCarre’s writing will likely love Herron’s “slow burning, artfully told and explosive excavation of the messy era of post-Cold War espionage.” As Goodreads notes: “a dazzling entry point into Mick Herron’s body of work, a standalone spy thriller that is at once unnerving, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny.”

Copyright The Editors 2024