Category Archives: What is literature for?

A.S. Byatt and Professor Jeffers–My Essay on Their “Big Historical Books” That Can’t Seem to Find a Publisher (Here It Is)

Some time back, I revised an essay on A.S. Byatt which I had written some years ago because at last I had found another book which I find equal and commensurate to it in stature and able not only to carry on the tradition Byatt established but to ring such changes on it as need to be rung for a different society and such disparate traditions in this country as need urgently to be united. On the basis of having read about 100 pages of Professor Jeffers’ book The Love Songs of W. E. B. Du Bois, I presumed to decide that this was the proper “inheritor” of the tradition Byatt had written in. There may possibly have been some inequity in the fact that I had not finished Professor Jeffers’ book, but I am continuing to read and will naturally do a full review on it when I have been able to finish, as I do with every book of stature which I have an opportunity to read. In my own defense, I would offer such personal facts as that I have also been reviewing other works recently, some of which I took up before Professor Jeffers’ book, others of which were easier to proceed with due to the simple fact that, whether prose or poetry, they were shorter. Also, I am almost certainly going to be forced to move before Christmas or shortly thereafter, and I have been getting ready and packed for that, and have been looking for Senior Housing. Perhaps I should have waited, but I was so eager to share the insight that I went ahead and revised the essay to include the prediction, no, the insistence, that the United States now has a book (there may somewhere be another, but this one is truthful about so many things, and it is a book of our contemporary centuries, too).

This book seems to me, at least, to be not only as enjoyable as Byatt’s book (all mysteries to end soon, I promise), but to be as informative if not more so, and as representative of a people’s culture, whether one is discussing that of the African-American citizens of this country or of our country as a whole, because it doesn’t leave the country alone and hanging, but speaks well for our culture as a cultural artefact. We should be just as proud of it as the British are of Byatt’s book (here it is), The Children’s Book, which only has as much to do with children as any historical book does, as it is a great deal more about the history and mores of the time. I have peeked ahead into Professor Jeffers’ book, but I didn’t want to do this too much before I wrote my final article to come in the future, because I didn’t want to take the risk of possibly issuing a spoiler and ruining it for the many readers who are still reading around me, as I don’t want to hear ahead of time either. And, this book also has a group of children as main characters. I say this in a certain amount of bewilderment as to why I haven’t been able to publish this article, aside from whatever my own skill with words may or may not be, which I leave to my readers. It may only be one of a host of other essays about the new book from a better variety of writers, or perhaps the difficulty has to do with simple editorial lack of space in previously committed journals. I don’t know. But I feel I don’t want to wait longer to cast my vote for the new book, always bearing in mind that I will review it again at better length later on.

It has occurred to me, that even in the two or three revisions this essay has gone through, I may be guilty of some oversight or intellectual injustice. If so, I am willing to hear the fault, from whomever feels they are qualified to tell me what it is. I want to know if I am in the wrong, because these are important issues: the societal issues raised about the status and well-being of a young black citizen and her family and associates in the United States are just as important as the looming issue of WW II was in Byatt’s book, and in my reading judgment are as well and interestingly handled. So, here is the essay: I invite comment, as always. [Thanks to D. L. Keur of the now defunct online journal thedeepening.com for printing the first version of the original Byatt essay, and for original permission to reprint.] Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Filed under A prose flourish, Articles/reviews, fiction examining societal inequities, What is literature for?

The Taut Exactitudes of a Lyric Welsh Poetry–Matthew M.C. Smith’s “Origin: 21 Poems” and a Study in Poetic Opposites

Copyright Matthew M. C. Smith, 2018, 2019, Black Bough Press in association with KDP Ltd.,

Matthew M. C. Smith, the editor of Black Bough Poetry in Swansea, Wales, has reissued his 2018 book of poetry, the modestly entitled Origin:  21 Poems.  It is his first collection of poetry in a long life of working on poetry and studying poetics.  One of his first contributions to the body of work on literature is his doctorate at the University of Wales, a thesis on the poetry of Robert Graves.  Currently, Matthew divides his time amongst a career in work on anti-poverty, education and welfare work; an editorship at Black Bough Poetry/Barddoniaeth Y Gangen Ddu, and a new volume of poetry, all of which makes him truly a Renaissance man.

When I had finished reading Origin:  21 Poems, my first thought was that if I weren’t talking about poetry, I’d say that each of these poems is clinically exact, except that I am talking about poetry, and “clinically” is the wrong word; these are poems rich in feeling, fellow-feeling, and emotional wealth, and here the poetical indirections are made in short, minimalist code of metaphor and description, which perhaps has confused my own non-minimalist poetic practice.

This poetry is definitely something to learn, and to know how to do, for the beauty of the sometimes staccato revelations is extreme, the phrasing a sort of condensed shorthand on the road to perfect portraiture, to individual epiphanies, to separate visions.

The book Origin:  21 Poems is entirely situated around family situations, cultural ones, and  natural/mythological/religious ones (all those things in life that are so much bigger than we are), sketching a line from belief and belief systems through the societal structures and remnants of ritual our civilization has left us with to family and celebrations of family and faith, the most personal of all.

There are careful pairings of poems back and forth, weaving, knitting a net to catch us in, with the warp in one poem being a salute to air travel, to being a soldier, either modern or ancient, and the woof of the next poem following being a loving meditation dedicated to a child’s birth or to play with children, or, one of the most moving poems, a poem on the death of the poet’s father, containing some of the implications of his life.  There are poems on prophets and guardians and “prodigal” women, nature poems filled with the beauty of winter or the symbolic natural growths of the seasons, and the book ends in a tribute poem to another Welsh poet, Alun Lewis, who died in WW II.  There is no accident here in these weavings of opposites, because they not only thus form Smith’s dedication to being a participating witness in all the doings of life, but they also invite the reader to select favorite and most resonant phrases, to read aloud, and then willy-nilly, to be led into a different experience, just as life itself would demand.  Here are some of my favorite lines and their topical sources:

the birth of a child:  “You belong to the world/to rose-red rivers dipped by the sun/to the white path of light in darkest night/ to frosts of fire beyond our dawn”

the death of a father:  “No cry, nor whisper, a cross shape/near crested roar and the people you love/carried you from the shore”

“After Man”:  “The fern, the ivy/the circle of oaks/were fast losing names given…our time was terribly mocked”

the modern soldier;  “Men of arms…frame-ache, sting of sweat/body-rack past forest tracks/where whippet-lads lead/and bigger lads wane”

“The Moment”;  “cycles of sun and/nights of stone//Picasso/his sorrow of shadow/is cast across/a frieze of terror”

the poet’s homage to another poet:  “your words grow old/but dare not fade/I heard they took you/in feathers as light as snow/and in that whirling flight/as words exhaled/they kissed your fading glow”

Here, the taut exactitudes I have spoken of in my title are from line to line, but blossoming forth in between are the pictures, the images, bodied forth in and contained by the lines themselves.  The overall effect?  Almost a contradiction in terms, the lyricism of the burgeoning phrases, held firmly in the short precision of the actual words.  Thus, it should be no guess that the preference at Black Bough Poetry is for short, imagistic poems of 1-10 lines, and that the devotion to the human equation has produced a sense of community for poets of every stripe, who are regularly invited to participate every Tuesday online through Twitter, tweeting to Black Bough Poetry, in #Top#Tweet#Tuesday, a rollicking, fun-filled poetic experiment in exposing poets from all areas of the globe to the work of other poets of all kinds and schools.  As well, there are occasionally special seasonal contests and participations, such as the recently closed one for Hallowe’en 2021.

As a final and defining note about this poet’s, Matthew M. C. Smith’s, contribution to the world poetic community, I would like to call attention to his election this month (November 2021) to be Broken Spine’s #Writer of the Month.  Already, he has participated in more than one poetic activity in this position, all of which information is available to the interested follower on Twitter.  If you are not yet familiar with Smith, his book is available on Amazon, and for all the many poets the world over who are already friends, admirers, and poetic colleagues of him and his welcoming, modest and self-deprecating humor, let’s give him another round of applause, and keep reminding him we are eagerly and a bit impatiently waiting to read his next book.  I mean, for a man who has so little else to do!  Seriously, though, be watching for Matthew M. C. Smith’s next volume of poetry; to judge based on this one, it’ll be another wonderful poetic experience.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)  

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A Quick Post to Call Your Attention to a Worthwhile Cause–The Center for New Americans in Western Massachusetts

Dear Friends of My Website,

Now is the time to stand up and be counted for all the places in the U.S. that are trying to perpetuate justice for refugees, immigrants, and new Americans. There is one such body in Western Massachusetts. My friend Jendi Reiter, whom you have encountered on this site before as the author of “An Incomplete List of My Wishes,” an excellent book of short stories which I reviewed some weeks back, is going to be composing a poem a day during the month of November to help raise money for this cause. They have also written some books of poetry, have one in the offing, and have a novel, “Two Natures, ” which is going to be reviewed on this site soon. It just goes to show that even very busy people, who are also editors and judges of contests, as Jendi is (at Winning Writers.com), can still take the time to participate in activities which are socially oriented and return a direct benefit to the community in addition to giving poetical benefits, which though profound are supposedly less tangible and direct. In this case, the gift of poetry and the gift of societal involvement are tied together, and operate together.

All that is necessary to to mention the charitable side of the enterprise, which is sponsoring Jendi for this effort. Your contrtibution, however large or small, would be of immeasurable benefit in aiding this worthwhile cause. All you need to is to make a credit card or personal check donation to the address(es) at this link: https://cnam.org/civi/pcp/info/?reset=1&id=532 . If there are any other facts you need to know, you can inquire at that site. The full title of the body in question is: The Center for New Americans: Education and Resources for Immigrants and Refugees in Western Massachusetts.

I don’t mind telling you that I have a very small income, but I have donated $10 to this cause. Even $5 would be welcome, and spreading the word whether you can contribute or not is valuable too, as others will thus be empowered to act in this manner. Thank you for your time and attention to this announcement, and your potential action on behalf of our new citizens-to-be. Jendi thanks you, and I thank you, and you can act in the assurance that the beneficiaries of this program thank you, too. All the best, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett) P.S. Please note: This post was originally put up on 10/18/2021. Today is 10/19/2021. It was necessary to repost to correct the charity address link because the donation is supposed to go the address above, to sponsor Jendi directly. The charitable effort will still benefit The Center for New Americans in Western Massachusetts, it’s just that now the business side of things will be correctly arranged at the right link. VLB

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C.T. Salazar’s “American Cavewall Sonnets”–Or as William Blake Would Say, “Hear the Voice of the Ancient Bard,/Who Present, Past, and Future Sees…”

With cavewall sonnets, it is necessary to speak of an ancient bard or ancestral voice intoning rich, mysteriously rich and tantalizing if sometimes evasive syllables. My feeling after reading through C.T. Salazar’s book American Cavewall Sonnets several times is that I will have to live a long time with this book before I feel I really understand these poems at all as thoroughly as they deserve; but don’t understand me to be complaining. From the beckoning and lush art of the front cover–what one has come to expect from Bull City Press’s chapbooks, here the cover art being Wildstyle Still LIfe by Collin van der Sluijs–the story of the poems is one of equal lushness, richness, elliptical at some points, but a straightforward celebration and reveling in language. If you’re expecting the rhyme or meter of a traditional sonnet, don’t: though some of the lines have distinguishable meter, it is intermittent and tends to occur in first lines where it does. The main sonnet constraint (and here, in the glory of the unrestricted experiment it would be a constraint to expect a formal sonnet) is that each poem is 14 lines long, 8 lines followed by a separate 6, and in one case, a visual poem of two recurring words, even that form isn’t strictly adhered to. But trust me, if you give these poems your time and heartfelt participation, it won’t matter a jot to you if the traditional sonnet is left totally in the dust for this spell of poetry.

Thus, formally speaking, this book of poetry is not a docile housemate, though sometimes a frenzied one; it is never reallly indecorous or disrespectful, however. It respects first of all the internal distances between reader and poet, and negotiates them without rapine or plunder of the reader’s resources. What do I mean by all that? Here’s an example:

"The rifle scope was a failure indeed
of the imagination--look through there
and everthing becomes           a target."  (p. 13). 

From this, one can see that while the poet has no intention of allowing his poems to be the target, to succumb to facile interpretation, the reader is welcomed into the lovely disorder and chaos that do aim towards meanings, but multiple meanings, as toward multiple–no, not targets–but caresses of the imagination. These are gentle, yet serious touches on the reader’s arm and consciousness.

The moments of darkness are not denied, the ones that keep humans sheltering in their illusions rather than facing what confronts them. “I never talked about what I saw in the river: /the humans who drowned.” The “mosaic” of our moments of darkness and also of belief is the mosaic “made from the salvaged chips of empire.” (p. 10)

And the force of memory in this consciousness, one which the poet tries to bring the reader to expand and to share with him, takes its turn too in the book–thus not only the target has been magicked away, but time cannot lose its soul to passing, and permanence becomes conceivable as more than a dream:

"This room was no longer, so I put it
back together/I put it back in my
mind/I put it in the back of my mind....
At the end of the world I'm told
a prayer could harden into a full
moon bright enough to guide our fathers back."  (p.27)

It’s not a matter of self-deception, though. In the ellipses I have placed above, the fragility of a broken vase is mentioned, and in the following line just below, we are told: “Even a whisper can bruise.” In such a world, wherein the poet must mediate and (once again) negotiate for himself and others, Salazar positions the poet in the most human and resonant of places: in the juncture between fragility and breaking and constancy and wholeness, we are finally told, as the summation of that sonnet and the book, “love, touch me.” And that sense of trust in our human capacity amid the challenges which may overwhelm us at any moment is a sense of trust in the bond, too, the compact, between poet and reader.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Apologies for Being Otherwise Busy, and a Suggestion for a Great Halloween Read

Hello, website, Twitter and Facebook readers! My apologies for going quiet mostly for a whole week or more now. I’ve been busy getting ready for moving (possibly) and simultaneously submitting poems, articles, and prose bits to publishers/magazines and checking on the same in Submittable and other sites. But as your reward, I have a Halloween suggestion for reading which will be guaranteed to shiver your timbers as well as the rest of you, from one of the greats. Please follow the Yellow Brick Road, or the trail of breadcrumbs to my very next post–it wouldn’t be a Halloween post if I didn’t keep you in suspense–and read my 2012 post on Kingsley Amis’s The Green Man. If you read the book, I promise you won’t be disappointed (Brrrhhhhh! And here I thought I was a back-to-nature woman!). Happy haunted dreams!

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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“What Pecan Light”–A New “Song of the South” Arises in Strict Self-Examination and the Protestant Confessional Tradition of Witnessing, Through the Medium of Poetry

Just this year, the editor/teacher/professional poet Dr. Hannah VanderHart has given us a monumental though deceptively short book of poetry on Southern life, thought, and tradition which belies the suggestion that a book need be long to achieve a worthwhile thesis and goal. The book is What Pecan Light. While the book goes from picture to picture of Southern life, and growing up in a family tradition of ownership of a chicken farm and farming in general, using images of food, daily habits, work forms, recreation times and religious traditions to which the South remains committed, the past with its Civil War history and history of slave-owning is never only a part of the background, but informs in its seriousness and rhetoric the whole.

The lovingly executed papier-mache in the photograph from the front cover with its mythically descended formation of human silhouettes-becoming-trees (by Rachel DiRenna) is a sort of key to the structure of the book as a whole: I too have had Southern relatives wondering what possible shape the South can take next, if it continues to change so much in its traditions and reverences, and being caught up in false notalgias, false because betraying of basic humanity.

Others such as Jessica O. Stark and Joy Katz on the book’s back cover have communicated at succinct and short length the cultural and societal aspects of this book. Though brevity is often said to be the soul of wit, sometimes a book merits greater length and remark where possible, and it is to this end that I devote myself today, while calling to the readers’ attention their deservedly appreciative remarks.

The book is one of tightly woven individual poems taking place in a loosely put-together structure which allows for visiting and revisiting, layering and relayering, of themes and motifs. The traditions and culture of the Southern United States in the states with which the poet is familiar are examined in an elliptical slide going from facts to Southern topoi and from Southern topoi to facts. “Topoi,” of course, in Greek, or “loci” in Latin, are rhetorical places, places where things happen and where facts may or may not reign. Here, the topoi are richly illustrated by Southern images and lifestyle portraits of the daily life of a family whose past is affected by the ancestors whom they have been taught to reverence, but whom more recent documents or examinations expose as flawed by slaving. This experience, when one thinks of it, is a universal experience in the sense that an appreciation of the facts portrayed and the reactions of the present-tense family committed to a more just existence are experienced by anyone who has imperfect human ancestors (which is all of us). That slavery is the issue here in this book makes it particularly rich for an American audience trying to heal the deep divides of our time, many of the roots of which are buried in older times.

VanderHart’s book is a deeply and seriously wrought picture of a family whose traditions are in the process of renovation despite their otherwise deep Southern ties, as the mother-figure in the poem teaches the newest members about the slave-owning past and the attitudes of prejudice, the practices of repression, that have been perennial in the world every time a subject people have sought freedom and self-determination. Thus, the poetic voice throughout, while not denying some degree of nostalgia but treating it both with reverence and due suspicion, makes from her own consciousness a critical voice arising from the midst of these traditions and cultural ties. She examines them both as they stand separate and apart from the greater life of the whole United States, and as they form the source of the root of Southern loyalty to the whole, where it exists.

For Southerners–and this was true in my childhood in the not-quite-South also, in West Virginia where people regularly divide themselves according to whether they have Southern loyalties of a traditional sort or Northern loyalties of the “West Virginia went with the North” sort–loyalty to the United States has in the past been first and foremost loyalty to a Southern-style home atmosphere, welfare, and traditions unless one is a social critic as for example VanderHart is here in her role as poet. Thus, this “monumental” work, as I called it once before, is a new sort of Southern monument, a Southern testament, a testifying of a religious sort, as poetry always has been, of a word structure rather than a stone or metal structure, but in the public forum just as a literal statue of a Confederate general or widow would be. And it is both long overdue for all of us, Northerners and Southerners alike, and most welcome in its overwhelming gift of a new language plinth to stand in our mutual public square.

This book is available from Bull City Press, at 1217 Odyssey Drive, Durham, NC 27713, http://www.BullCityPress.com . It is also available from Amazon.com.

Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Great News! For Kindle Readers Who’ve Been Inquiring–“Poems from the Northeast” Is Now Live!

Dear Kindle Readers, Just today, the 334 page book of poetry ranging from 1976-2021, “Poems from the Northeast,” has gone live! Thanks to all the Kindle folks who have inquired from me and my publisher and who have helped bring this about! Enjoy getting your poetry fix, and thanks for your interest! Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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Filed under Full of literary ambitions!, how to order/pre-order my poetry book, ways to buy my book, What is literature for?

The REAL Author at Work, and Her Poem

Dear WordPress and Twitter followers, Sometimes an author or poet has to allow someone else to take credit for her work, due to prejudice and an inability to use the keys of the keyboard. This was so in my case, so I had to allow my human companion and servant to type this poem for me, and unfortunately also to take credit for it. Please excuse any irregularities; I found myself so excited to be given my due attention at last that I couldn’t prevent myself from walking on the keys, which may have occasioned a blank page at the very beginning. Please, advance past it and go on to my poem. Most sincerely, Dr. Lucie-Minou “Kitty” Bennett, C.A.T., P.U.R.R., F.U.R. (My picture below, wrapped in contemplation…)

As I do not smoke, or drink anything but water, you see me here

with only my superior sensibilities in evidence (no pipe, no whiskey).

An Eccleisiastical Furball
(To Christopher Smart and the author of Pangur Ba'n)
copyright Victoria Leigh Bennett, 2021 Olympia Publishers
Why does the kittty cat purr so?
Why does the kitty cat purr?
Because she's feeling so fine, bro,
Because she's licking her fur.

Why does the kitty cat hiss thus,
Why does the kitty cat hiss?
Because she's getting her teeth brushed,
Because she doesn't like this.

Why does the kitty cat stare so,
Why does the kitty cat stare?
Because the birds are outside, love,
Because the birds are out there.

Why does the kitty cat meow thus?
Why does the kitty cat meow?
Because she's been taught not to cuss, friend,
And she's in such a tight spot, and how!

Why does the kitty cat roll there,
With her belly up in the sun?
Because she's joyous and fine, lad,
And her troubles have all been outdone.

Why does the kitty cat sit there
So high up where she can't get down?
Because she was off on a lark, boy,
And wanted to see the town.

Why does the kitty cat fold her paws
Under in front when she sits?
Because she's refraining from slapping you
For asking so much just like this!

Why does the kitty cat look so profound
When it is time to pray?
Because she already knows her god
And has been in prayer all the day.

For her stare and her meow and her purr
And her rolls and her perch and her stance
And her hiss,
Are all celebrations of god's holy name,
So she needn't ask questions like this.

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Today’s the Day! “Now is the hour/Of our great content/Made uproarious self-advertisement/By this client of WordPress.”

“Wha?” say you, the innocent reader, stepping into the maelstrom of glee and self-congratulation.

Well, the misquote from Shakespeare’s Richard III above is only to confirm and announce that my 334 p. book of poems, “Poems from the Northeast,” about which I’ve been babbling for a few weeks now at least, was in fact released today, amid much hoopla by me and celebrations in a minor way.

The cat (Lucie-Minou, my heart’s darling) started it off today at 2:30 a.m., by agreeing to partake of a Fancy Feast broth to join in the day. Then, at 7:30 a.m., she had her breakfast of Fancy Feast chicken and tuna feast with all sorts of special (read: expensive) stuff in it.

Then, my mom and I ate some ice cream. And I guess, really, that wraps it up for the actual celebrating, but the mood was festive, anyway. So, just posting to let all my readers know that the book has now been released. If you’re wondering where to find it, it may be available in a lot of different places soon, but if you’re looking for a quick copy, try your local Amazon platform, the publisher’s (olympiapublishers.com), or Book Depository.

And share it with someone. Poetry is always better when shared.

All the best, and thanks for your support. Let me know your comments here, if you have any you would like to make to me directly, or if you would like to ask any questions about any of the poems you find in the book.

Namaste, Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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“An Incomplete List of My Wishes”–What a Title Does for a Book, and What a Book Can Do for Its Readers

First of all, let me introduce Jendi Reiter to those of you who may not be familiar with their work, as I must admit shamefacedly I was not myself until recently. To list all the awards and accolades they have received, I think I cannot do better than to quote the short biographical credit on the back of this fine book of short fiction: “Jendi Reiter is the author of the novel Two Natures and four poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Bullies in Love. Awards include a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship for Poetry, the New Letters Prize for Fiction, the Wag’s Revue Poetry Prize, the Bayou Magazine Editor’s Prize in Fiction, and two awards from the Poetry Society of America. Two Natures won the Rainbow Award for Best Gay Contemporary Fiction and was a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards and the Lascaux Prize for Fiction.” Jendi is also one of the editors of the Writer’s Digest acclaimed website winningwriters.com, and a very kind, accommodating, and encouraging model for writers and artists. Their website is at JendiReiter.com and they can be followed at @JendiReiter on Twitter.

Now to the book itself, and that provocative and enticing title: An Incomplete List of My Wishes. How universal the title is, how it speaks to the complete human experience of having many goals, dreams, and wishes, which sadly and tragically sometimes, but also humorously and happily sometimes, we may or may not get to register with whatever recording angel or god we believe in. This book has the greatest virtue of many books which happen to be constructed with at least the permission of the recording angel of the gay experience, that it is accessible to everyone, is for everyone, is inclusive of every truth of the human being, no matter how flawed or partial that person’s individual life is: and it even more explains for everyone who is not a total moral idiot the gay lifestyle and experience, both as it is constituted in itself and as it intersects with the straight ones.

For, this book has one quality in particular which leads even a relatively unfamiliar reader through its maze of situations and conditions, lives and their pitfalls and victories, both major and minor, both saddening and joyous: I can do no better than quote the book itself for the key informing dramatic motif of the whole: “…but she…would henceforth always be someone chosen, someone who had said yes to herself” (p. 99, “The House of Correction”). The sympathetic characters in this book are also those who have said “Yes” to themselves, sometimes at great or even life-changing, life-risking costs. The book overall promotes courage as a feature of human life, as an answer even when the question is dire and unfair.

“Exodus,” the first short short bit of fiction beginning the book, is like the Biblical book that bears its name, a statement about the end of innocence and an objective correlative for the issue of mortality which crops up again and again in the book, not exclusively in relation to the issue of AIDS, but also in conjunction with those issues of indifference, brutality, imperfect love relationships which affect everyone, LGBTQIA+2 or straight. This book bridges the many gaps people imagine they have between them, and this short piece introduces the collection.

Four of the short stories function as an introduction and vade mecum to the novel Two Natures, as they are affecting and short excerpts from the characters’ lives from that novel. The stories are “Two Natures,” “Julian’s Yearbook,” “Today You Are a Man,”” and “Five Assignments and a Mistake.” Though I have not yet had the opportunity to read the novel in which these characters make a main appearance, their short essays in guiding us through the stages of awareness and growth of a gay man and his sister and cohort are fine as they are here, pieces capable of standing alone structurally and rhythmically.

The story from which the title is drawn, “An Incomplete List of My Wishes,” gains part of its sense of incompletion in the fictional element of the story from the fact that a death row inmate appears in it indirectly, who is at the point of ordering his last menu, the last life choice he will be able to make for himself. But the narrator of the story is the woman whose daughter he may or may not have killed, who is also wrapped up in contemplation of choices, last and lasting both.

“Waiting for the Train to Fort Devens, June 17, 1943” is a story “written” by another sort of recording angel, a photograph preserved of men on their way to war, men both doomed to die and fated to come back and live as survivors, their individual conflicts and choices recorded as well in the book of memory.

“Altitude,” as one might expect by the title, deals in clever and short order with the dizzying sweep of differing abilities to scale heights of human endeavor and experience.

The story “Memories of the Snow Queen,” a collection of fictional meditations and variations on a frightening theme from a children’s story in a manner related to that of A. S. Byatt, reveals a grotesque and overwhelmingly dysfunctional secret to a young woman attempting to reconnect with this fragment of her past.

To end off the book, Reiter has chosen a story of an adoption, “Taking Down the Pear Tree,” which along with a finely tuned portrait of all the human actors involved in such an endeavor, is also a meditation upon family, grief, and change as a structural and inevitable part of human life.

All in all, I am delighted to have read this book and to have thus encountered even indirectly the dramas and conundrums some other humans experience, with the residual obligation and joy of developing more understanding and warmth towards these, my fellow beings. That is always of course the point of good fiction, to give its readers a point d’appui for the extension of understanding, but in this book in particular, Jendi Reiter makes it overwhelmingly easy for a reasonable, willing, good reader to comprehend their characters and their own creative reasons for giving them the lives they did. Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)

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