Tag What I’m Reading

‘Her Sister’s Tattoo’ by Ellen Meeropol

Her Sisters Tattoo - Ellen MeeropolBook Review by  Jacqueline Sheehan

I’ve been a fan of Ellen Meeropol’s novels for ten years. Her three previous books merged personal drama with social justice. But not until Her Sister’s Tattoo has Meeropol so masterfully grasped the political strife in our country since the 1960’s. And as a true novelist can do, she allows us to experience the turmoil through the intimate lives of two characters whom we come to know and understand.

Rosa and Esther Levin are caught up in the passion and violence of the anti-war protests of 1968 in Detroit. When protest marchers are bloodied by the mounted police, the sisters spontaneously take an action to distract the police that would seem innocuous, even childlike. They hurl apples at the police. But a horse is spooked and a police officer is horribly injured. In that one moment, their lives change in unimaginable ways, driving a brutal wedge between the two sisters that will endure for decades. The dynamics of loyalty to family and one’s conscience become the battleground for a truly American novel.

Late in the book, (I’m not giving anything away here) a character says, “The Levin sisters taught me it’s not your family that determines who you become. It’s not even your abilities. Your choices define you.”

We all make choices every day that define us, but some of us make choices with more lethal consequences. Will our loyalties reside first with our loved ones, or should we sacrifice even our freedom to a larger belief in what is right? Meeropol pulls back the curtain on the lives of two sisters in the midst of this and by doing so, pulls back the curtain on a history of political activism that reverberates through time. For those with an eye for politics and fiction, Ellen Meeropol’s novel will not disappoint.

Her Sister’s Tattoo by Ellen Meeropol. Red Hen Press, April 2020.

About the reviewer: Jacqueline Sheehan, is a New York Times Bestselling author and a psychologist. Her novels include, The Comet’s Tale a novel about Sojourner Truth, Lost & Found, Now & Then, Picture This, The Center of the World, and The Tiger in the House. She also writes essays including the New York Times column, Modern Love. She is one of the founders and former president of The Straw Dog Writers Guild in Western Massachusetts. She teaches workshops at Writers in Progress in Northampton.

‘Night Sky with Exit Wounds’ by Ocean Vuong

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean VuongGuest Post by Andrew Romriell

Ocean Vuong’s collection of poetry, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, is a masterpiece that illustrates the most vital and sincere hardships of humanity in astonishingly few words. Leaping from free-verse to prose poetry, from stringent format to broken syntax, Vuong fashions here a collection of inclusion.

We open on “Threshold,” a poem where Vuong introduces his themes of body, parenthood, sexuality, and history. He warns us from the very beginning that “the cost of entering a song—was to lose your way back.” Vuong asks us to enter into his words and lose ourselves there. And we do, poem after poem, until we close on Vuong’s book with the penultimate piece, “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong.” In this poem, we read an assumed message from Vuong to Vuong where he tells himself “don’t be afraid,” and to “get up,” and that the most beautiful part of his body “is where it’s headed.” Before this, we’ve read pages of poetry full of pain, fear, and shattering, but here, Vuong embraces himself—and us alongside him.

“Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong,” like all the poems in Night Sky with Exit Wounds, rings with pain, wonder, regret, and history. Yet, there is also hope here, and I would say this is the theme of Vuong’s work: hope, inclusion, and change. Vuong takes us through a journey, shatters our expectations, holds our hearts, tells us to get up, and that, like him, we can survive the voyage.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong. Copper Canyon Press, April 2016.

About the reviewer: Andrew Romriell is a creative writing student at Utah State University.

‘Out of Speech’ by Adam Vines

Out of Speech by Adam VinesGuest Post by Adrian Thomson

Adam Vines’s Out of Speech, a poetry collection comprised of ekphrastic poetry based upon famous paintings as well as personal experience, draws on Vines’s travels from southernmost Argentina to the Louvre. Each poem begins by naming the art piece it takes as a subject, then moves toward unpacking their visual elements often through fascinating uses of enjambment.

More than just describing the artwork, Vines peels away surfaces to encounter shavings of shocking humanity lying beneath. In “My View From Here,” a poem responding to Yves Tanguy’s Les Vues, Vines sees an abstract red vista of segmented alien pillars the cancer polyps hidden in a barstool acquaintance he meets by chance outside the gallery. “Holes and Folds,” based on the group portrait The Swing by Jean Honoré Fragonard, finds a narrator focused on the most innocent of the lounging young men in order to question his objectives as a hand slides up a woman’s dress.

Vines’s visual inspection of minutiae leaves his reader questioning the subjects presented in the paintings. Will the awoken businessman in Hopper’s Excursion Into Philosophy leave before his lover stirs? What has made his countenance so dour? What of the open book forgotten on the bed? Is his shoe slipping into, or out of the light? The reader feels unsure even after turning away, and Vines leaves them contemplating in silence.

Out of Speech by Adam Vines. LSU Press, March 2018.

About the reviewer: Adrian Thomson is a creative writing student at Utah State University.