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Your Own Back Yard – Michael Gillan Maxwell

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Drive-By Book Review “Spent” by Antonia Crane

Spent by Antonia Crane

Published 2014,  Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book

Spent cover

I just finished reading Antonia Crane’s gripping memoir Spent, and I realize it happened again. I fell hard for a book. After inevitably coming to the end, I am, once again, left wondering “Now what in the Hell am I supposed to do?” I end up doing the only thing I can do in a case like this. I talk about it. I used to write book reviews, but it’s something I really don’t do much anymore. However, there are times when a book really lights a fire and truly captures my interest, and the best way for me to process what I’ve just read is to talk about it, and sometimes rant and rave about it. That’s what’s happening here. To be clear, I am not even attempting to write a piece of serious literary criticism. This is just me responding, reacting, processing. This is me just sayin’: “You gotta read this book!”

 Spent gathers early momentum with a depiction of Antonia Crane’s childhood in coastal northern California, the disintegration of her family life and her coming of age in a small town that just doesn’t offer enough to keep her there. She moves to San Francisco and later to LA, where she supports herself by stripping. She lives a bohemian, alternative lifestyle, hits bottom doing hard drugs, but finds connections that lead her to sobriety. She becomes a powerful political activist within the sex worker industry, earns an undergraduate degree and enrolls in graduate school. Crane’s reconnection with her mother is heart breaking as it occurs just as her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer. At a new low, with no other resources, Crane returns to sex work which leads to an arrest. This serves as a clarion call to change her life. At the risk of sounding trite, the old adage “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” seems to apply here. While the sex industry is the setting for Antonia Crane’s journey, on a deeper level, it is a memoir about the human condition, the search for meaning and finding one’s purpose, and the importance of connection through family and community.

Every so often I’m lucky enough to come across a book that is so well written, so personal, so honest and unflinching and so compelling that I never want it to end. I just want to go on and on, living with those characters in that world. I wish I could say that about all the books I read, but I can’t. It’s not to say that they are not good books or well written, but, for whatever reason, they just don’t command my attention and engagement the way this one does. Spent is a special book, a searing memoir that got under my skin in a serious way and left me hungry and longing for more.

Antonia Crane is an articulate and vibrant story teller and a force of nature as a performance artist. I’ve had the good fortune to actually see and hear her read selections from this book on two separate occasions, once in Boston and again in Seattle, shortly after publication. I was a participant in the reading in Boston. It was my first public reading and I was nervous. There was a timer on the podium to help us keep our readings to the allotted four minute limit. Ironically, it looked like a dildo and started blinking red to signal 30 seconds to wrap things up. I was on the schedule immediately following somebody I’d never heard of named Antonia Crane. The author hosting the reading called her name and I watched as she emerged from behind a pillar across the room. She was tall, blonde, athletic looking, dressed in black leather, with muscular tattooed arms. She approached the podium looking like some kind of Viking warrior goddess and delivered a reading about rough gay bondage sex fueled by crystal meth. She had the audience enthralled. The timer started blinking at the 30 second mark and Crane quickened her pace, picked up the timer and held it aloft as if she were the Statue of Liberty, dramatically finishing her piece just as the timer went off. She tore it up and brought down the house. It was unquestionably the best reading of the event. And there I was, holding a crumpled piece of paper with my staid, little poem, dressed in my tweed jacket with patches on the elbows and I had to follow that. It was like the teeny bopper pop group, The Monkees following a mercurial guitar player named Jimi Hendrix. I’ll never forget it.

Everyone has some kind of story to tell. But not every story is worthy of a written memoir. Memoir writing takes a very unique and special kind of skill. It requires an almost mystical legerdemain to put the reader inside the author’s head and Antonia Crane totally pulls it off. Spent is a memoir right up there with the very best. It goes toe to toe with some of my favorites such as Kate Braverman’s Lithium For Medea and Frantic Transmissions To And From Los Angeles , Ghost Bread by Sonja Livingston, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Just Kids and M Train by Patti Smith, Things I Like About America and 501 Minutes To Christ by Poe Ballantine and Chronicles by Bob Dylan. These are the Titans of Modern Memoir in my world and Antonia Crane is right up there on Mount Olympus with the rest of them and the best of them.

Antonia Crane is an author, writer and teacher. She has worked as an adult dancer and performer. Her writing has been published in The Rumpus, Black Clock, ZYZZYVA, Slake, Smith Magazine, and The Los Angeles Review. She received her MFA in creative writing at Antioch University. She lives in Los Angeles and teaches in the UCLA Extension Writers Program.

Find links to her publications at http://www.antoniacrane.com

Also listen to a wonderfully entertaining and informative interview with Brad Listi at

http://otherppl.com/antonia-crane-interview/

Drive-By Book Review: Beyond Redemption by Gary V. Powell

Book Review: Beyond Redemption by Gary V. Powell

2015 Fiction 121 pages

I tend to like flash fiction and short stories in general, but I am absolutely knocked out by the flash fiction and short stories in Gary V. Powell’s gem of a collection Beyond Redemption. I wonder if Gary Powell’s training in the law helped him to develop a disciplined approach to writing in such a powerfully concise style that gets straight to the point. He knows exactly how and where to pack the power in his punches. His prose is lean, compact and taut, yet lyrical and poetic enough to be powerfully evocative and compelling. It takes great skill to compress all of the necessary story elements into this kind of short form and Gary Powell does it with aplomb.

Beyond Redemption consists of 20 pieces, 18 of which have previously appeared in various literary journals, and every one of them is a winner. If this were an old school record album, then this could easily be a collection of his greatest hits.

Beyond Redemption explores the struggles of adolescents to assert themselves, young people coming of age, middle aged couples coming to grips with broken dreams and broken relationships, laid off factory workers, patients in a psych ward, people struggling to reconcile dreams of the past with the reality of the present, and people bumped, bruised and dinged up by life, but who find a way to dig deep and muster the resolve to keep on keepin’ on. Conflict lies at the heart of each piece and creates the tension that drives it. However, these are not depressing stories. Each one of them is, in some way, about resiliency of the human spirit.

Powell demonstrates an impressive ability to drop the reader into a specific time and place while wearing the character’s point of view like a second skin. He is not constrained by age or gender. Powell writes just as convincingly from the point of view of an angst ridden teenage girl looking for acceptance as he does from that of a disaffected middle aged man plodding through an unrewarding corporate career.

Many of the stories are colored by a very recognizable regional mid western flavor with references to Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and the Great Lakes. However, Powell writes just as convincingly about the deep south and the bayou country of Louisiana. Gary Powell is a great story teller who is, in my opinion, in the same league as widely recognized contemporary masters of the form including Tobias Wolff, Amy Hempel and Ann Beattie. Beyond Redemption is a collection well worth reading and my only regret is that I came to the end of it.

About the author:

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Gary V. Powell’s stories and flash fiction have been widely-published in both print and online literary magazines including most recently at The Thomas Wolfe Review, Fiction Southeast, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Best New Writing 2015.  In addition to being the winner of the 2014 Gover Prize for short-short fiction, several of his stories have placed in other national contests including The Press 53 Prize (2012), Glimmer Train (2013) and The Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize (2014).

His first novel, Lucky Bastard, was recently published by Main Street Rag Press.

For this, and more of his work visit http://www.authorgaryvpowell.com

Guest Reviewer Sarah Lilius Reviews “The Burn Poems” by Lynn Strongin

MadHat Drive-by Book Reviews is pleased to welcome Guest Reviewer Sarah Lilius who offers us her review of Lynn Strongin’s latest collection: “The Burn Poems,” published by Headmistress Press.
http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/

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Book Review: What Happened Here: a novella & stories by Bonnie ZoBell

My review of Bonnie ZoBell’s wonderful book What Happened Here: a novella & stories is up on MadHat’s Drive-By Book Reviews.

http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/book-review-what-happened-here-a-novella-stories-by-bonnie-zobell/

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Review of This Wasted Land by Marc Vincenz on Heavy Feather Review

My review of This Wasted Land by Marc Vincenz annotated by Tom Bradley is published on Heavy Feather Review. 

Thanks to Jason Teale for publishing my review.

http://heavyfeatherreview.com/2015/03/24/this-wasted-land-by-marc-vincenz/

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Book Review: We’ll See Who Seduces Whom: a graphic ekphrastic in verse by Tom Bradley and David Aronson

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Book Review: We’ll See Who Seduces Whom: a graphic ekphrastic in verse
by Tom Bradley and David Aronson
is now live at:
http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/

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Review of Cinéma Vérité: poems/sketches/parables by Sam Rasnake

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My review of Cinéma Vérité: poems/sketches/parables by Sam Rasnake (A-Minor Press 2013) is up on MadHat Drive-By Book Reviews.

http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/review-of-cinema-verite-poemssketchesparables-by-sam-rasnake/Review

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Reviews of Bound By Blue and Her Skin Is A Costume by Meg Tuite

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Reviews of Bound By Blue and Her Skin Is A Costume by Meg Tuite

Featuring recent books by Meg Tuite in this edition of MadHat’s Drive-By Book reviews.

http://madhatarts.com/madhatreviews/reviews-of-bound-by-blue-and-her-skin-is-a-costume-by-meg-tuite/

“Long Gone And Never Coming Back” is published in Literary Orphans

 

Long Gone And Never Coming Back is published in the current issue of Literary Orphans.

I am thrilled to have my piece “Long Gone And Never Coming Back” published in the current issue of Literary Orphans. Thank you Editor Mike Joyce and everyone else who works so diligently behind the scenes to make this happen. I’m especially knocked out by the brilliant pairing of visual art with writing. The brilliant photography of Charles Simms turned my piece into a movie! This issue is full of fascinating interviews, book reviews, essays and compelling fiction, poetry and art!

http://www.literaryorphans.org/playdb/long-gone-never-coming-back-michael-gillan-maxwell/

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