A superb collection of poems that are haunted by grief yet touched by grace.

BONE MUSIC

POEMS

A volume of poetry explores how art shapes connections beyond the randomness and tragedy of loss.

The title poem of Peckham’s latest collection (many pieces were previously published in literary journals) refers to clandestine recordings of jazz and rock ’n’ roll banned in the 1950s Soviet Union. Bootleggers cut discs from used X-rays, burned a hole in the center with a cigarette, and employed a recording lathe to transfer grooves from a gramophone record onto the plastic. These makeshift discs could then be played like any record, though they were short-lived and had poor sound quality. These discs were called ribs, music on ribs, bone music, or jazz on bones. This startling, potent metaphor is central to the book and its images of accident, breakage, loss, healing, and transcendence. X-rays capture moments of crisis, when the broken bones are “halted in ghostly / bloom,” but this is also the time when diagnosis and rehabilitation can begin their inherent process “the way bones do, all on / their own reaching for bone, reaching to make you / whole.” In their low-fidelity, scratchy fragility, the X-ray discs mimic how the body retains its injury, so that a once-broken bone aches in the cold. The poem then turns to the 2004 auto accident in Jordan that killed the author’s first wife and older son, an event that lies behind the entire collection. In the hospital, the speaker “lay in a hospital bed looking at the x-rays / of my shattered hip and the fiery brightness of the pins and screws / and white-hot wires and the clouds of tissue forming around them,” which tell “of choices, and / accidents.” And yet, like the jazz recorded in bone music, “an off-note, a mistake, can be embraced by the soloist.” Even overwhelming tragedy can give rise to the grace that is art; in the end, says the speaker, “Yes, these bones can sing, set all my comrades dancing, / to a ghostly tune.”

Throughout the moving collection, Peckham never suggests that the healing, soulful work of art is easy, only that it’s possible through faithful attention. One significant form of attention is listening, which ties in with the volume’s many images of music, especially improvisational music—the kind that makes art of accidents. While nearly all the pieces in the book are prose poems, they’re far from prosaic. The form works well to suggest the poet’s urgency to speak about wholeness. Techniques like alliteration and assonance supply the music of poetry, as in “Suffering Tape.” Here, the sibilants match the swoosh-y visuals of wheeling starlings and glinting fish scales: “Sun and shadow as I shook and took the / shape of starlings flocked or the flame of sunfish staring up at night / from the windshield’s blue-black pond.” Another strong throughline in these poems is stargazing and astrocartography, another kind of attention that requires seeing and making connections: “We place a thing near another thing and it throws a spark, / makes a third somehow in there and out, a process we name art (or / God?).”

A superb collection of poems that are haunted by grief yet touched by grace.

Pub Date: April 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62-288912-9

Page Count: 90

Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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