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Literature

17 Nov 2015
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Each chapter of Contenders—Colorado writer Erika Krouse’s sharp, fresh debut novel of love, street fighting and deep-rooted disaffection—begins with a brief parable from martial arts lore or Asian folk traditions. In one, a squirrel tells a bird that he knows 15 ways to escape a fox. The bird, however, knows only one way: He flies. When a fox appears, “The fox’s jaws closed on the squirrel as it was trying to decide which of the 15 things it should do. The bird had already flown away.” Krouse’s protagonist, Nina Black, is a woman who knows one thing, and that is fighting. As a teenager in Grand Junction, Colo., she escaped an abusive father when she began to get serious training in martial arts from a gifted Vietnam veteran. Now in her late 20s, and having left her family with no forwarding address, Nina leads an isolated existence in a run-down…
10 Nov 2015
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In his heartbreaking new book, Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II, California writer Richard Reeves reminds us that wars have a frightening tendency to spawn racial prejudice. The incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans has been relegated to a footnote in U.S. history for 70 years. Infamy is a not-so-gentle reminder of that tragedy. Backed by a wealth of research, Reeves documents the systemic racism behind internment, the military and political leaders who launched it, and the massive toll it took on immigrants and their children in the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “Soon after Pearl Harbor,” Reeves writes, “Caucasian shopkeepers joined the farmers in outspoken hatred, with signs saying ‘This restaurant poisons both rats and Japs’ and ‘Open hunting season for Japs.’” Infamy generally portrays first-generation Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents as patriotic U.S. citizens who happened…
06 Nov 2015
In Leaving Before the Rains Come, her fifth nonfiction book, Wyoming writer Alexandra Fuller traces the unsteady arc of her marriage, from its shaky foundation in southern Africa to its final unraveling in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Fuller’s readers will recognize characters and events from her traumatic (and comic) childhood in war-torn British Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, which she wrote about in the best-selling Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. Although her new book covers some of the same terrain, this memoir unspools in a steadier, wiser voice. Fuller reflects on how her chaotic early years, rife with loss and disease, created a deep craving for stability, calm and safety, which she attempted to satisfy as an adult by marrying an American named Charlie Ross. After she nearly dies of malaria in Zambia while caring for her newborn daughter, Fuller and her family move to the United States. There, in the…
19 Oct 2015
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At the age of 6, Bryce Andrews sat at his family’s kitchen table in Seattle, listening to rancher/artist Pat Zentz talk about building sculptures—and pulling spotted knapweed. Art and agriculture went together, the boy assumed. The next year, curators at the University of Washington’s art museum installed “The Myth of the West,” an exhibit his father organized. Young Andrews stood wide-eyed before Albert Bierstadt’s painting “Yellowstone Falls,” then turned and practiced his quick draw facing Warhol’s “Double Elvis.” That same year, his family visited the Zentz Ranch in Montana, in a pilgrimage that would become an annual event. Sixteen years later, Andrews himself began living the myth of the West, when he became an assistant livestock manager on a different ranch. Andrews’ first book, his award-winning 2014 memoir, Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West, begins with his journey from the “damp claustrophobia” of Seattle to…
13 Oct 2015
The Spirit Bird: Stories, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize, is Kent Nelson’s latest collection of short fiction. Nelson’s stories feature diverse protagonists—a young single mother, a rabble-rousing Southern lawyer, a restless empty-nester—as well as an unusually vivid sense of place—the chile fields of New Mexico, the resort towns of Colorado, suburban Seattle—that establishes the land as an essential character in the stories. The people in Spirit Bird are trying to break out of their lives, and they share one major trait: dissatisfaction. They’re exploring, pushing boundaries, looking seriously at their own lives and asking, “Really? What now?” In “Race,” Hakim, a Kansan of Egyptian heritage, is a glassblower living in Colorado. He is middle-aged and divorced; he misses his daughter, uses his talent to make tourist baubles and is viewed with suspicion by many locals, even though he’s been a member in good standing of the local chamber…
12 Oct 2015
Winds may blow, o’er the icy sea I’ll take with me the warmth of thee A taste of honey, a taste much sweeter than wine. Music aficionados 40 and older are probably familiar with the haunting, Grammy-winning tune “A Taste of Honey,” made famous by Barbra Streisand, Herb Alpert, and The Beatles, among others. However, those music aficionados may not know the guy who penned it: desert resident Ric Marlow. He recently released a compilation of poetry and song lyrics, with a theme of love, called Tastes of Honey. Born in the Bronx on Dec. 21, 1925, Marlow grew up on Long Island. As he sang, Marlow took other jobs to survive, including hauling cement, building tennis courts and driving a cab. He says his best non-musical job was demonstrating pogo sticks in the toy department at Macy’s. He claims he once sold $17,000 of pogo sticks in one month.…
09 Oct 2015
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Just a block off a busy intersection in Albuquerque’s North Valley, a tile-covered two-story house stands like a poem. Mosaic flowers spring from its base, and pueblo-style rainclouds grace the front gable. For 11 years, Bev Magennis added one ceramic tile after another to her home, not intending from the start to cover the entire building. “I just get on a track,” she says today from her new home, which is tile-less and about a mile away. “I love a long-term project.” In more than three decades as a visual artist, Magennis created life-sized figures—even a “dome lady” large enough to sleep a family for the night. (At one point, she considered building a series of dome women and creating a sort of motel. Her then-husband was less enthusiastic about the idea.) In 1993, she left Albuquerque for rural southwestern New Mexico. Catron County is home to Mexican gray wolves,…
21 Sep 2015
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On the surface, California author Ruth Galm’s debut novel Into the Valley is a sidelong, Didion-esque glance into a 30-something woman’s unaccountable unraveling. Beneath the surface, it is skillfully whispered social commentary. Caught between the counterculture of late 1960s San Francisco and her mother’s conservative past, B. (as the main character calls herself) is inflicted with a strange malaise, one she calls “the carsickness,” which can only be soothed by cashing counterfeit checks. In desperation, B. drives aimlessly through the Central Valley, hoping that “its bareness would reveal something, provide an answer she had failed to acquire.” The premise of Into the Valley does more than provide a pleasing nostalgia. (Ask yourself: When was the last time you wrote a physical check?) Galm’s B. finds comfort in bank lobbies, “the right angles of the teller windows, the teller’s movements like a soothingport de bras.” These precise, clean moments give her…
18 Sep 2015
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You’re hiking alone along a steep switchback trail in Washington’s Olympic Mountains, when suddenly, you turn a corner and see a massive mountain goat, its black eyes trained upon you. A few years ago, a goat attacked and killed a man in this very park, and, at the thought, a trickle of sweat wends its way from your hairline to your collar. The goat is still looking at you. Then you remember that mountain goats aren’t native to these mountains, meaning that both it and you are relative newcomers here. But does that—should that—knowledge do anything to diminish the wildness of this encounter? Congress has the power to designate wilderness areas, but every wilderness-lover has his or her own definition of “wild.” A few purists would see the non-native goat as a deal-breaker, but increasingly, many people do not base their definition of wilderness on whether a particular landscape is…
11 Sep 2015
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Every day in Tombstone, Ariz., actors re-create the famous gunfight of October 1881, when the Earp brothers—Virgil, Morgan and the legendary Wyatt—along with their friend, Doc Holliday, confronted a gang of local troublemakers known as the “Cow Boys,” in a shootout that wounded several and left three dead. The battle lasted a mere 30 seconds, though in modern cinematic slow-motion, it goes on forever. In Epitaph, Mary Doria Russell goes beyond the bloody melodrama, turning painstaking historical research into an absorbing 600-page novel that seeks to understand these men and the context in which they lived and fought. Russell writes of the participants, “Whether you live another five minutes or another 50 years, those awful 30 seconds will become a private eclipse of the sun, darkening every moment left to you.” Russell ended her terrific 2011 novel, Doc, before Holliday’s brief stint in Tombstone, largely because she felt the O.K.…