fiction

Some Places You May Want to Visit

This is a short list of where you may want to visit to read some outstanding poetry and fiction on the net. Of course you may also desire to submit your work for consideration. Enjoy!

 

North of Oxford wordpress

 

Visit with us at North of Oxford

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/about/

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Easy Street Magazine

http://www.easystreetmag.com/

midnight

Midnight Lane Boutique

https://midnightlanegalleryii.wordpress.com/

scar

Scarlet Leaf Review

https://www.scarletleafreview.com/

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In Shades Magazine

http://www.inshadesmag.com/

empty

Empty Mirror Arts and Literary Magazine

https://www.emptymirrorbooks.com/

panoply

Panoply – A Literary Magazine

https://panoplyzine.com/

blue

Blue Heron Review

https://blueheronreview.com/

odd

Oddball Magazine

https://oddballmagazine.com/

pang

The Pangolin Review

https://thepangolinreview.wixsite.com/mypoetrysite

canary

Canary Literary Magazine

http://canarylitmag.org/

jonah

Jonah Magazine

https://jonahmagazine.com/

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The Liar’s Asylum by Jacob M. Appel

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By Lynette G. Esposito

The eight short stories in Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum are amazingly fun to read.   The 168 page collection, published by Black Lawrence Press, explores common every day experiences with life twists that both surprise and confirm the human condition.

Appel is a keen observer of people interacting with their life situations.  John Jodzio, author of Knockout, comments,  ”I am in absolute awe of Jacob Appel’s Liars’ Asylum.  The stories here are magnetic and knowing, funny and inventive.  Appel is a master of form—deftly able to conjure up pitch perfect characters whose lips spill out both truth and wit.”  I agree.

In the story when Love Was an Angel’s Kidney on page 120, Appel narrates the story of a young eighth grader fascinated with a high school athlete who comes to her father’s camp for youth who need dialysis. The story, in true beginning, middle and end short story form, shows how love can happen and end anywhere. While the young girl would give up a kidney for her innocent love when she is skinny dipping with him in the camp lake, her financially inept father is losing the camp to the bank and his wife to his best friend.  Her father never finds another woman for whom he would sacrifice an organ, but she wonders about her young love and if he still thinks of her.   She asks:   Am I what remains when an angel’s kidney evaporates in the past? This is an interesting concept when looking at love itself as it fades into the past but remains in the heart.

In Good Enough for Guppies,  the story opens with Divorce infected the air last summer and Appel sets the scene for old women (78) seeking love in a variety of places all told from a candid observer who once in awhile participates in the story by suggesting the relationship he has with his own wife.  The narrator, Gene, and his wife, Shelia, must deal with Shelia’s mother, 78, marrying a man in his forties with a Bronx accent.  Shelia is almost hysterical because it is her mother and Gene attempts to understand survivorship in a long-term marriage.  The story suggests and shows average people reacting to love at various stages in their life and how they react as well as judge others outside and inside the family.

Appel is a master of unique and inventive story lines that are well controlled, developed and meaningful.  He sets clear scenes with unique twists that help the reader see and understand the characters in more than one perception and in more than one dimension.  I enjoyed every story.

The book is available here: https://www.blacklawrence.com/the-liars-asylum/

Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

Edju By RW Spryszak

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The Surrealism of War, Politics, Religion and Everything Else

By Larissa Shmailo

RW Spryszak;s Edju is a compelling, thought-provoking read, possibly one of the best antiwar novels since Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun. Its eponymous unreliable narrator is certainly as odd as Trumbo’s and every bit as opinionated. Edju’s point of view is skewed, we suspect, but the surreal world he encounters is undeniably more so. Populated by fantastic saints, monstrous war machines, and fatalistic animate metaphors of death, the world of Edju threatens us with the core horror of humans systematically killing one another for questionable ideas.

Reading Edju, I saw elements of the original picaresque novel in the adventures of its Quixotic, but always truthful, protagonist. But his story—a hagiography, perhaps, if Edju’s time-warping memory serves— is a continuing exercise in excess, an attempt to trump absurdist and surrealist writing of past several centuries. There are loud shout outs to Gogol’s nose and Kharm’s corpses, and more than a few scenes that are reminiscent of Kafka and even an absurdist Robinson Crusoe.

All of this is done in a slow reveal—we learn the name of the narrator, an old man mocked by children only in the eighth chapter. We assume Edju is mad, hopelessly odd, a compulsive-obsessive religious fanatic, a kook who thinks his dead lover is strangely and selectively alive in a sack. As his Nordic world unfolds in subsequent chapters, we come to believe this limited being is the only sane man on his dystopic nation.

The central conceits of the novel, Edju’s windmills, are surreal metaphors for war and competition in reduction ad absurdem: war machines fueled by human bodies, a Mountain of Flesh all are eager to climb, factions absurdly fighting over table cloths which have become their last banners, a Maze of defense. The path to war is depicted accurately, starting with pamphlets and the rise of fascism and inevitably followed by

Leftist Agrarian Front. Rightist National Unity. Holy Orders of the Fist of God. The Liberal Party. The Conservative Party. Liberal Conservatives and Conservative Liberals. The Armed Hand of the Nation. Nuns. All armed. All vying for power

And:

Évitez les faux, they shouted. Libérez nos bébés, they called. N’accepte pas les substituts. It seemed like a full-scale rebellion was at hand. I had no idea if those phrases were in any way grammatical and correct. But in times of revolution even the commas get misplaced.

Religion fares no better than politics. In nomenclature reminiscent of David Foster Wallace’s Year of the Depends Undergarment, faith in Edju’s universe is represented by Bibliana, saint of headaches and hangovers, Our Lady That Didn’t Tumble, Saint Fomildehyde, and extremely peculiar paths to canonization.

The writing of Edju is synaesthetic and witty, replete with eyepopping detail, zinger similes, and wise one liners:

Death makes everyone an outcast.
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There was a tan gray moon, a pure slice of venom in the blood, floating overhead.

Climbing up the em­bankment was a struggle, but her perfume reached out like a muscular ghost that held me close to its face of vapors. As wrong as elephants.

Left to the devices of nature all things decay. Why is this not the basis of the theory of everything they search for?
The rain fell so hard it opened graves.
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If you are not them, you are the other. It’s in the Constitu­tion now.

Firing a gun is like fucking a ghost.
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RW Spryszak’s unusual hero’s journey belongs on your reading list. Like many fine works that eptly mine and mime our culture, it is novel, in the first meaning of the word.

You can find the book here:

http://www.spuytenduyvil.net/edju.html

Larissa Shmailo is an American poet, novelist, translator, and critic.  Her poetry collections are Medusa’s Country, #specialcharacters, I n Paran, the chapbook A Cure for Suicide, and the e-book Fib Sequence;  her latest novel is Patient Women. Shmailo’s work has appeared in Plume, the Brooklyn Rail, Fulcrum, the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion, the Journal of Poetics Research, Drunken Boat, Barrow Street, and the anthologies Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters, Words for the Wedding, Contemporary Russian Poetry, Resist Much/Obey Little: Poems for the Inaugural, Verde que te quiero verde: Poems after Garcia Lorca, and many others. Shmailo is the original English-language translator of the world’s first performance piece, Victory over the Sun by Alexei Kruchenych. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and has been a translator on the Russian Bible for the American Bible Society. Please see more about Shmailo at her website at www.larissashmailo.com  and Wikipedia at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/  Larissa_Shmailo.

 

 

 

The Charnel House on Joyce Kilmer Avenue by Rob Cook

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By g emil reutter

I have known for some time by reading the works of Rob Cook that spirits, visions may haunt him. Or maybe not. Just maybe Cook views life a bit differently than most. Unlike most, his imagination pours forth in imagery and character driven prose that has given birth to his latest effort, The Charnel House on Joyce Kilmer Avenue. It is a slim 44 page offering that at first will leave you with the feeling, what the hell is going on here? Yet as one reads on the creative genius that is Rob Cook spills out upon page after page.

He introduces us to the main character, a college student, the narrator, who enters his new residence with books buried in his knapsack, hears a phone ring the way it is supposed to, hears the television telling stories the way it is trusted to tell those stories and who sees a smile hurry across the ceiling. His roommates come and go and then there are none except for the dead children in the dining room that does not have a table or chairs. In fact, when he is left alone there is no furniture at all. The narrator is mostly surrounded by silence and loneliness, one roommate sits in silence and never speaks. There is the girlfriend who lives in another city yet is never seen or heard. A college professor of self-importance who has lost his chin and a stalker who no one would understand stalking the narrator. Struggling with acne the narrator battles with hard lump surrounded by blackheads, a zit with “monstrous potential”.

There is Carl the roommate with the big boots who clumps up and down the stairs. Who picks the clumps of the narrator’s hair from the shower drain and deposits them by his toothbrush. And then there is this:

The toilet, clear as it was, smelled like the insides of a poet who wasted his life listening for the soundless snowfall of the day’s mail drifting through the door’s one crack of hope.

When asked what he does, the narrator claims to be a failed musician, or a student for he believes if he says he is a poet as a grown man he will not be fondly looked upon. There is Lincoln on the five dollar bill, gaunt and frowning at the narrator before Lincoln turns away.

The last thing Carl says is: Good luck with those friends of yours. There are many in the home without furniture at The Charnel House on Joyce Kilmer Avenue.

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You can find the book here: https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780998187273/the-charnel-house-on-joyce-kilmer-avenue.aspx

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found at: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/

The Boulevard Trial by Stephanie Laterza

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By Karen Corinne Herceg

In clear, often compelling prose, Stephanie Laterza’s debut novel, The Boulevard Trial, offers us a contemporary story of moral dilemmas, confused intentions and missed connections that frequently result in disappointing resolutions and, at times, even tragic consequences. The traumas of the novel’s characters bleed into their ongoing personal experiences like an unchecked, gaping wound. On a larger scale, they mirror disturbing issues in the very fabric of our society and the ramifications of our actions in a greater perspective. The Boulevard Trial takes place mainly in New York with some flashbacks to Boston and Germany. Laterza captures much of the city’s raw, often ruthless vibe, the indifference of overpopulated urban compression, images of media hounds and grueling corporate competition and an apathetic environment where ambition overrides compassion.  The main character, Helena, is a young attorney struggling with a secret from her past that could ruin her career. Her boss, a partner in the prestigious law firm where she’s employed, assigns her a pro bono case defending Francesca, a prostitute, while he considers her future at the firm in light of this past information that has come to his attention. Helena is up against a tough, renowned prosecutor, Alexandra, whose zealotry in persecuting morally compromised women masks her own demons. Upon learning of Alexandra’s post-war past in Germany, Helena must decide whether or not to use this against her. But this is only one of many moral quandaries presented in a story where Laterza does a very competent job of weaving and delineating the intricate similarities and inter-connectedness among the characters. At the forefront are the damages that secrets can hold, the lies and misperceptions generated by withholding truth, and the often destructive, even fatal, results of misguided decisions.

The opening sentences of the novel are laid out clearly and succinctly, giving us a lot of cryptic information and engaging our curiosity from the start. There’s good exposition and, for the most part, Laterza manages to avoid the writer’s perennial pitfall of “telling not showing.” There is some pause over use of “voice” from chapter to chapter. The novel’s beginning chapters are told in the third person that begins to shift to first person perspectives then back again. While this might seem to present some inconsistency in the narrative, it does give insights from varying perspectives, much as we might hear in a court of law. This reflects both the literal trial transpiring in the novel as well as the trials of the various characters. Ion the end, however, Laterza demonstrates that no one is free from bias. There are occasional unsettling phrases such as, “Her nose whistled, amplifying her quick breaths…” (P. 1, ll. 10-11), “The bolus in Helena’s throat melted as tears blurred her vision,” and a romantic scene where an anticipated kiss is seen as a lover’s “…entry into her mouth, that blood-colored gateway…” (P. 217, ll. 13-14). The meltdown in the trial scene seems a bit hurried, as does Helena’s realization of her true love. But these somewhat less developed depictions are offset by the many fine descriptive passages that offer sensitive, tactile and vivid portrayals of the characters, their situations and recollections that bring them vividly to life for the reader. In one scene Helena’s friend and former romantic interest, Michael, describes a tapas bar downtown with customers seated at a “…curved mahogany bar, whispering in Spanish beneath repurposed copper penny lanterns and sipping from tiny glasses of Manzanilla,” (P. 73, ll. 5-7) as he and Helena sit at a table with a “… chipped red and blue mosaic top” (P. 73, ll. 8-9). A scene in The Museum of Sex finds a receptionist, “…college aged and bored, slumped over a Social Psychology textbook while chewing on the straw of a Starbucks Frappuccino” (P. 83, ll. 14-16). There are many detailed, colorful portraits and scenes throughout the novel that enable us to easily visualize characters and scenes. In a reminiscence of wartime Germany, Alexandra’s mother, Nellie, refers to “…buildings crumbling like torsos with severed balconies and fractured cables in a sky determined to cling to its blanket of wizened gray clouds” (P. 261, ll. 16-18). And Laterza doesn’t shy away from raw, painful and disturbing details, such as Francesca’s rape scene, right down to the seedy motel room and “smoke-scented bed” (P. 12, l. 7).

Connections to past events that lead the characters to their current actions and reactions are drawn well. When Francesca assesses a current abusive client, “She remembered the way her father would get up close to her face before breaking into a rampage” (P. 9, ll. 24-25). But the deepest, most introspective examination of relationships for the female characters is the link to their mothers, their controversial and emotional maternal inheritances. The mother and daughter connections are explored quite well in a multitude of ways yet ultimately emphasize the similarities of the various dynamics. There are mothers’ rules, admonitions, condemnations and expectations. There are times when characters would rather hurt themselves than hold their mothers responsible for damage to their self-esteem. Ultimately they need to realize and accept responsibility for recognizing their own worth. Perfectionism, cleansing and order are safeguards against fear and life and a mother’s unattainable love. As Alexandra observes, “…Such is the nature of the unbreakable yet fragile strings that bind daughters and mothers” (P. 237, ll. 14-16). Tamar, who is Alexandra’s mentor, knows that Alexandra “…walks around tortured with memories of her dead mother” (P. 117, l. 17). She tries to  “…reverse the years of her mother’s abuse,” (P. 117, l. 24-25) something Tamar learns we cannot do for another person. As she notes further, “…the Universe has a way of balancing out the sins of the world in a way I cannot control” (P. 118, ll. 3-4). Tamar is a substitute mother figure for Alexandra but very damaged herself, using work to provide her with “…the distraction it gave from the everyday annoyances of being human” (P. 125, ll. 22-23). Tamar sees herself as free in “…not having a mother to tell me what to do, or to stop me from doing everything I wanted” (P. 137, ll. 9-10) such as becoming a secretary or reproducing. But this maternal lack gives her no strong foundation from which to compare, separate and eventually confront herself. For Alexandra, all she wanted from her mother “…was for her to love me, to show me the mercy she wished the world had shown her” (P. 237, ll. 10-11). This is a valued insight teaching us that what we do not heal we pass along in anger and revenge creating a chain of ongoing destruction. As Nellie states in a letter discovered posthumously, “I hated hearing the sound of my mother’s misery in my own voice” (P. 272, ll. 10-11). Ultimately all the blame and guilt cannot help us. We must take responsibility for our own lives. As Michael observes, people’s heads “…are packed from corner to corner with muck and regret, who look at every decision they’ve made from the time they graduated high school till now and realize that the unrelenting misery that has become their life is entirely their own fault…” (P. 111, ll. 17-20). It is our duty to extricate ourselves from the imprints and challenges of others, and to make our own way.

Fears distort perceptions and dictate tragic outcomes for many of these characters, some departing this world without resolution and others finding some peace. Comparing Francesca’s soul to a river, we read, “The River washed over its skins of cracked salted seaweed and the assaults of oil spills and even dead bodies in a cold emptiness, never having to remember its pains and imperfections because it died and was reborn a thousand times” (P. 27, ll. 17-20). Yet remembering is really critical to learning and not repeating the transgressions we inherit and commit. Just as in life, some of these characters pass away in pain, some speak their truth too late, and others find levels of redemption. Laterza offers good insights into the various choices that lead to certain outcomes. She avoids tying up the story into a neat package and leaves us with both unavoidably sad results as well as satisfactory conclusions that are realistic. The Boulevard Trial is a good, fast-paced read with more than a few lessons to impart. It opens with our introduction to Helena, and she has the final word in the last chapter. She offers herself this admonition that is sage advice for us all: “I slap myself on the knee for my bad habit of dwelling on destructive alternatives to present joy” (P. 337, ll. 17-18). The essential ingredient to joy, however, is examining the genesis of those destructive choices.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Boulevard-Trial-Stephanie-Laterza/dp/150591051X

Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays and reviews. Her latest book is Out From Calaboose, by Nirala Publications (2017).  She lives in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Summer Reading Recommendations 2018

The following books were reviewed at North of Oxford between January and June 2018. They are listed according to total views by the readers of North of Oxford. A link to the review appears below each title and links to where to purchase the book appears in the review.

 

Gessner

 

The Conduit and other Visionary Tales of Morphing Whimsy by Richard Gessner

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/the-conduit-and-other-visionary-tales-of-morphing-whimsy-by-richard-gessner/

appearances

Appearances by Michael Collins

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/appearances-by-michael-collins/

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A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree Demaree

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/02/01/a-fire-without-light-by-darren-demarre/

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Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/monte-carlo-days-nights-by-susan-tepper/

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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/05/01/the-gates-of-pearl-by-jill-hoffman/

journey

Journey to the Beloved by nur alima schieBeare

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/journey-to-the-beloved-by-nur-alima-schiebeare/

 

ornaments

Ornaments by David Daniel

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/ornaments-by-david-daniel/

hap

Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/hap-hazard-and-the-end-of-the-world-by-diane-desanders/

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the labors of our fingertips: poems from manufacturing history in berks county – Vol. 3 by Jennifer Hetrick

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/01/01/the-labors-of-our-fingertips-poems-from-manufacturing-history-in-berks-county-vol-3-by-jennifer-hetrick/

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A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

https://northofoxford.wordpress.com/2018/04/01/a-look-back-antic-hay-by-aldous-huxley/