Chomel delves into personal experience in crafting this diverse compendium. Friendships, career, observations on modern mores and exotic travels all serve as sources of inspiration. The poetry is full of alliteration and striking word choices—“bougainvillea,” “sophisticate” and “bellwether”—but can occasionally feel trivial in subject matter, as when the author recalls locking his dog and the keys in his car at a gas station or gives a superficial tourist’s account of a trip to Indonesia. The eroticism is strained in “Her” and a few other poems. Still, there are beautiful lines, such as “Whippoorwills of indecision bat around my brain” and “A gardener’s shears soon discipline / Libertine shoots of June’s reckless weed.” Chomel is best when drawing on his professional expertise as a deputy district attorney. The standout piece, therefore, is the essay “Lifers,” in which he re-creates his visit to the state prison in San Luis Obispo, where he interviewed violent criminals. The author does seem to stereotype an inmate or two, however, calling one “the epitome of the hardened criminal, a gruff white male in his forties.” Moreover, the balance between observation and experience is slightly off; there is too much first-person writing for journalism: “I dined on a dull fish while reviewing the cases for the next day.” The essays portray a narrator who is an old-fashioned curmudgeon who struggles to remember passwords, resents slang and disrespect, and dismisses body piercing as exhibitionism. “I would personally prefer to revert to the caveman era of cash-filled mattresses,” he insists. The lighthearted tone resembles Nora Ephron’s, but these articles feel redundant and lack narrative energy. The short story “Henry,” on the other hand, is an engaging satire about a man’s friendship with his GPS during a European road trip; Henry, like Hal (2001: A Space Odyssey), has a mind of his own. That pleasant tinge of surrealism also infuses the two tales that follow, though neither is quite as inventive.
An unusual blend of genres; as varied in quality as in content.