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The Prairie Schooner Blog

Briefly Noted – March 2014

Monthly book reviews in brief from the staff of Prairie Schooner and associates

Vol. 3 Issue 2. March 2014. Ed. James Madison Redd & Paul Clark.

Weeds: A Farm Daughter's Lament by Evelyn I. Funda | Reviewed by Jacqueline H. Harris

Hide Island by Richard Burgin | Reviewed by Theodore Wheeler

Mira Corpora by Jeff Jackson | Reviewed by Jack Hill


 

Evelyn I. Funda. Weeds: A Farm Daughter’s Lament. Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Jacqueline H. Harris

Ralph Waldo Emerson called farms a “mute gospel,” but weeds have forever been perceived as the cursed blight on humankind’s attempt to tame soil and assert our authority, order, and control over Nature. In her 2013 memoir, Evelyn I. Funda thoughtfully reconsiders the significance of land, sowing, and reaping as she navigates her cultural inheritance of Czech immigrant family history, farming in the American west, and loss. Combining meticulous scholarly research on the history of agribusiness, poignant elegies for family and the southern Idaho farmland she called home, and heartfelt memoir contemplating her own identity as a daughter at the crossroads of the great American Dream, Funda’s book invites readers to examine the fluidity between identity and identity lost. Funda frames each chapter with an infamous weed and masterfully connects its relationship to the soil to her relationships with the land, her family, and the past: the bright, tentacled, parasitic dodder; the brilliant yet aggressive and unmindful loosestrife; the opportunistic, auger-like wild oat; the dominating, strong-rooted sage; and the prolific yet pernicious cheatgrass. Funda’s writing movingly contemplates the myth and the reality of the West and how try as we might to change the land, it is ultimately the land that changes us.

 

Richard Burgin. Hide Island. Texas Review Press, 2013.

Reviewed by Theodore Wheeler

The latest collection of short fiction from Richard Burgin, Hide Island, explores the lengths people go to find a sympathetic ear. Whether these confession narratives are shared through a need to be loved or as therapy, a base desire to have their vulnerability recognized wins out in the end. As with much of Burgin’s work, there’s an obsession here with disrupting patterns of loneliness. The stories collected in Hide Island feature housebound, bedridden, and invalid characters—and the serviceworkers who are brought into contact with these recluses on a daily basis—along with a menagerie of women in dangerous relationships. Much of the drama—and humor, for that matter—is produced by putting contradictory characters into contact with each other. Drug dealers and prostitutes connect with successful businessmen and college professors. So when the narrator of the title story wonders if what he has revealed is “meant to be a horror story or to be funny,” we see how this tension will play out. The answer, of course, is that these stories are both humorous and shocking, as you might expect from accounts of the sick, aging, and addicted. “Hide Island” and “The Reunion” are notable stories, but “From the Diary of an Invalid” is the standout of the bunch. A touching and fractured account of a chronically ill father’s recollections of his son and their quirky relationship, “Diary” engages the main theme of the book, that a “healthy body is the great diverter from thinking about the world.” An invalid, however, suffers from a dreadful lack of diversion. Burgin’s characters are self-aware and open, and narrate their stories with a “philosophical kind of mind.” They’re compelled to confront their mortality. As we’ve come to expect from this distinct literary voice, Hide Island offers an unsettling and honest appraisal of the contemporary American neurotic, and continues a string of compelling work from Burgin in recent years.

 

Jeff Jackson. Mira Corpora. Two Dollar Radio, 2013

Reviewed by Jack Hill

Mira Corpora, the debut novel by Jeff Jackson, channels the reader through a grotesque and beautiful anti-coming-of-age story about a narrator also named Jeff Jackson. Derived from a series of childhood journals, each chapter traces stages in Jackson's wandering journey to age eighteen. Jackson writes in the author's note: “Sometimes it's been difficult to tell my memories from my fantasies, but that was true even then.” From a feral child surviving in the woods to living with a loose collective of children to eerie amusement parks and teenage oracles, Jackson creates a story from questionable memory about fringe individuals occupying the spaces between spaces. Jackson writes: “If you run your fingers along this paragraph, you'll feel the site where I stabbed my thumb straight through the page. There is an entire world in that hole.” Mira Corpora is a gripping novel, a reminder that one must remember the worlds that are sometimes glossed over, the people that occupy the inbetween places, and the holes, because the circumference of the fringe is widening.


Jacqueline H. Harris is a PhD candidate in nineteenth-century British literature at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She specializes in children’s and coming-of-age literature and has earned certifications in Women’s & Gender Studies and Nineteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Studies. Theodore Wheeler’s fiction recently appeared in Boulevard and Midwestern Gothic, and is forthcoming from Five Chapters and Gargoyle. In 2015, he will attend the Key West Literary Seminar as winner of the Marianne Russo Award and serve as a fellow at Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany. Jack Hill edits Crossed Out Magazine (crossedoutmagazine.org) and is a first year creative writing M.A. student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Submission Guidelines:

The editors of Briefly Noted welcome submissions of short reviews from our readers. The series features short reviews of books published in 2012 or 2013; however, we occasionally publish short-shrifted reviews of significant older works under the radar. We're looking for reviews that are punchy and to the point, around 100 to 300 words. Send all submissions to pswebed@unl.edu with “Briefly Noted" in the subject line. We look forward to hearing from you in brief!

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