Well-meaning but shallow, contributing little to our understanding of what’s happening on the southern border.

DEFACING THE MONUMENT

Journalism, visual art, poetry, and preaching to the choir meet in this primer of engagement in migration and border security.

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” observed W.H. Auden, sagely. Briante, a professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Arizona, acknowledges as much when, midway through this centrifugal exercise, she writes, “we do not need more poems at the port of entry any more than we need the concertina wire that now sparkles like tinsel through Nogales.” In what presumably is supposed to be prose poetry that occasional breaks out in a line or two of metered lyric, the author agitates for an activist poetry that does for detained migrants what Muriel Rukeyser’s “The Book of the Dead” did for the besieged miners of Depression-era West Virginia: “And if I lay my white woman’s body on the border between Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora,” she writes, as if channeling Karen Finley or Marina Abramovic, “I do not become migrant although I might feel the pinch and pressure of cement under my hips, might smell how the concrete carries the odor of sun and piss.” Elsewhere she writes, with welcome self-awareness, “Dear documentarian, dear poet, what is the value of your privilege?” The suffering of others—of “The Other”—is the central trope in an intermittently sharp yet scattershot harangue against things ranging from “racist, misogynist and capitalist oppression” to the melting of polar ice and mass shootings. Those who enjoy this sort of thing will find this book invaluable. As for others—well, thanks to Luis Alberto Urrea, Kathryn Ferguson, Valeria Luiselli, Charles Bowden, and many other witnesses, there are dozens of books and authors to consult before this book, which contains nuggets of wisdom (too few and far between) but fails to cohere.

Well-meaning but shallow, contributing little to our understanding of what’s happening on the southern border.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-934819-90-6

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Noemi Press

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2020

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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