Review by David Kilgannon
Julie Winch opens her book The Clamorgans: One Family’s History of Race in America (Hill & Wang, 2011) bemoaning the failure of Charles Dickens to visit the Clamorgan family’s “bathing saloon” during his visit to St. Louis, Missouri in 1842. If the Victorian novelist had attended, Winch speculates, there may have been another Dickens novel as the story of the Clamorgan clan provided a range of the archetypally Dickensian tropes of “hapless orphans, wily villains, women seduced and betrayed by the men they trusted, imposter of one kind or another, with an unscrupulous lawyer or two thrown in the mix” (3). Comparing an actual family to a novelist’s work sets a high standard for any tale, but is more than surpassed in Winch’s engrossing narrative history of one biracial American family.
Through the life and times of the Clamorgan family of St. Louis, Winch traces the development of the idea of race and its role in family life, the law and broader American society from 1781 to the early decades of the twentieth century. The narrative begins with the clan’s progenitor, Jacques Clamorgan, whose uncertain origins and even murkier ethics set the stage for more than a century of contention. Specifically, this tension centred on Jacques’ questionable investment in large tracts of land in the upper Louisiana territory alongside the fact that “over the years he lived openly with a succession of black women, all of them at some point his slaves, and several of these women bore him children” (39). Clamorgan’s provision for these children, his mixed-race illegitimate heirs, went on to produce more than a century of often bitter litigation. Winch is sympathetic but clear sighted in showing how Jacques’ less than scrupulous business methods, as well as the racist sentiment inherent within the United States’ justice system, conspired to leave a legacy of unfulfilled riches that occupied generations of Clamorgan’s descendants. Continue reading “Book Review: The Clamorgans”
Review by Kasandra Lambert
In her debut novel, Found (SparkPress, 2016), certified nurse practitioner Emily Brett presents the story of Natalie, a young ICU nurse living in Denver, Colorado who is desperate for change. This novel follows Natalie as she leaves her stable job and becomes a travel nurse, placed in locations around the United States and abroad for a set amount of time.
Natalie’s somewhat impulsive decision to quit takes on new urgency after a strange encounter during the final days of her job in Denver. She fears a coworker, Beatty, has had a hand in killing her husband, who was a patient under Natalie’s care. She shares these concerns with her boss before leaving and thinks little of it until strange occurrences start to happen in all her travel assignments. Continue reading “Book Review: Found”
Review by Anna Kirsch
The Port-Wine Stain (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016) is the third installment of Norman Lock’s American Series, a series where each novel is a stand-alone narrative dedicated to memorializing great American writers by writing in a style that is part pastiche and part homage. The Port- Wine Stain is devoted to celebrating Edgar Allan Poe.
The Port -Wine Stain is narrated by Edward Fenzil to an undescribed listener he calls Moran. Fenzil is a young surgical assistant to Dr.Thomas Dent Mütter, who in the winter of 1844, meets Edgar Allan Poe. While to the literary reader Poe is the most recognizable figure, Mütter is just as important to Fenzil. It is Mütter who sets up the meeting between Poe and Fenzil and it is Mütter’s early form of cosmetic surgery that introduces into Fenzil’s imagination the concept of physiognomy. Physiognomy maintaines that a person’s character is determined by their physical body, or to be exact, the shape of the body. The idea that a twisted body could be the sign of a twisted soul is the ideological cornerstone of the novel. Continue reading “Book Review: The Port-Wine Stain”
Review by Burcu Alkan
Richard Wiley, 1987 winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Best American Fiction, takes a new path in his latest novel, Bob Stevenson (Bellevue Literary Press, 2016). Having lived in Korea, Japan, Nigeria, and Kenya, his previous novels mainly deal with distant geographies and cross-cultural encounters. Yet, with his eighth book, he brings his storytelling closer to home. Set in New York City, Bob Stevenson tells the story of a psychiatrist who falls in love with a patient and the very-human difficulties of emotions that arise from such a knotty affair.
The novel opens with Dr. Ruby Okada rushing off to meet a fellow doctor and a friend, Bette, for dinner. In the elevator of the clinic, she meets an enigmatic man with unidentifiable charms that grip her attention. What happens next is unravelled in the rest of the novel, as Ruby tries to come to terms with the consequences of her impulsive decision. The mystery of the man in the elevator, and Ruby’s relation to him, is presented through a curious narrative that touches upon the emotions underlying and shaping one’s filial, social, and romantic relationships. Continue reading “Book Review: Bob Stevenson”