An accomplished, lyrical vision of a locality over several generations.

Cloud of Expectation

From the The In America Series series , Vol. 1

Westphal, in his debut, reanimates the small Arkansas town of his youth in this new volume of poetry and prose.

In this rumination on a bygone place and time, the working-class German-American community of the poet’s childhood—and his father’s and his grandfather’s—is rendered through the naïve, hungry eyes of childhood: the baseball fields and factories, the parties and civic events, the majesty of Mass, and the warmth of community. It’s a perspective aware of the prevailing economic hardship and blue-collar angst as well as the minority communities that linger silently on the periphery. Adults in this world don’t often complain and certainly not in the presence of the younger generations; patience and grateful fatigue are the main characteristics. African-Americans in the community, for instance, “seemed to draw their breath / from a deep reservoir of ease, as a man might draw from a cigarette, / and to share in some silent low communion, / their voices like bassoons and flutes / in muted conversation.” And yet, at the edges, and with the hindsight of maturity, Westphal can see the places where these self-made myths began to fray. The collection is divided into sections composed of both poetry and prose flowing in and out of each other, rarely demarcated by titles, creating a sense of cohesion that pulls the reader through the work. Westphal’s voice drifts assuredly between the plainspoken and the lyrical in a buoyant, unpretentious style still able to achieve moments of brilliance. Occasionally he missteps—take, for example, a “prelapsarian Eden of innocence”—but for the most part he keeps his syllables short and guttural, finding the natural alliterations of common speech: “As the daylight ebbed, / the clouds left and right would light up inwardly / with electrical discharges, / signaling each other across the summer distances.” If the book drips a bit heavily with nostalgia, Westphal is hardly the first poet to fall into that trap. What is impressive is how he’s able to render a highly modest society in poetry that simultaneously elevates its struggles while staying true to its aesthetic sensibilities.

An accomplished, lyrical vision of a locality over several generations.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-5141-3752-9

Page Count: 205

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

TANQUERAY

A former New York City dancer reflects on her zesty heyday in the 1970s.

Discovered on a Manhattan street in 2020 and introduced on Stanton’s Humans of New York Instagram page, Johnson, then 76, shares her dynamic history as a “fiercely independent” Black burlesque dancer who used the stage name Tanqueray and became a celebrated fixture in midtown adult theaters. “I was the only black girl making white girl money,” she boasts, telling a vibrant story about sex and struggle in a bygone era. Frank and unapologetic, Johnson vividly captures aspects of her former life as a stage seductress shimmying to blues tracks during 18-minute sets or sewing lingerie for plus-sized dancers. Though her work was far from the Broadway shows she dreamed about, it eventually became all about the nightly hustle to simply survive. Her anecdotes are humorous, heartfelt, and supremely captivating, recounted with the passion of a true survivor and the acerbic wit of a weathered, street-wise New Yorker. She shares stories of growing up in an abusive household in Albany in the 1940s, a teenage pregnancy, and prison time for robbery as nonchalantly as she recalls selling rhinestone G-strings to prostitutes to make them sparkle in the headlights of passing cars. Complemented by an array of revealing personal photographs, the narrative alternates between heartfelt nostalgia about the seedier side of Manhattan’s go-go scene and funny quips about her unconventional stage performances. Encounters with a variety of hardworking dancers, drag queens, and pimps, plus an account of the complexities of a first love with a drug-addled hustler, fill out the memoir with personality and candor. With a narrative assist from Stanton, the result is a consistently titillating and often moving story of human struggle as well as an insider glimpse into the days when Times Square was considered the Big Apple’s gloriously unpolished underbelly. The book also includes Yee’s lush watercolor illustrations.

A blissfully vicarious, heartfelt glimpse into the life of a Manhattan burlesque dancer.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-27827-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2022

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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