A superb collection of poems that are haunted by grief yet touched by grace.

BONE MUSIC

POEMS

A volume of poetry explores how art shapes connections beyond the randomness and tragedy of loss.

The title poem of Peckham’s latest collection (many pieces were previously published in literary journals) refers to clandestine recordings of jazz and rock ’n’ roll banned in the 1950s Soviet Union. Bootleggers cut discs from used X-rays, burned a hole in the center with a cigarette, and employed a recording lathe to transfer grooves from a gramophone record onto the plastic. These makeshift discs could then be played like any record, though they were short-lived and had poor sound quality. These discs were called ribs, music on ribs, bone music, or jazz on bones. This startling, potent metaphor is central to the book and its images of accident, breakage, loss, healing, and transcendence. X-rays capture moments of crisis, when the broken bones are “halted in ghostly / bloom,” but this is also the time when diagnosis and rehabilitation can begin their inherent process “the way bones do, all on / their own reaching for bone, reaching to make you / whole.” In their low-fidelity, scratchy fragility, the X-ray discs mimic how the body retains its injury, so that a once-broken bone aches in the cold. The poem then turns to the 2004 auto accident in Jordan that killed the author’s first wife and older son, an event that lies behind the entire collection. In the hospital, the speaker “lay in a hospital bed looking at the x-rays / of my shattered hip and the fiery brightness of the pins and screws / and white-hot wires and the clouds of tissue forming around them,” which tell “of choices, and / accidents.” And yet, like the jazz recorded in bone music, “an off-note, a mistake, can be embraced by the soloist.” Even overwhelming tragedy can give rise to the grace that is art; in the end, says the speaker, “Yes, these bones can sing, set all my comrades dancing, / to a ghostly tune.”

Throughout the moving collection, Peckham never suggests that the healing, soulful work of art is easy, only that it’s possible through faithful attention. One significant form of attention is listening, which ties in with the volume’s many images of music, especially improvisational music—the kind that makes art of accidents. While nearly all the pieces in the book are prose poems, they’re far from prosaic. The form works well to suggest the poet’s urgency to speak about wholeness. Techniques like alliteration and assonance supply the music of poetry, as in “Suffering Tape.” Here, the sibilants match the swoosh-y visuals of wheeling starlings and glinting fish scales: “Sun and shadow as I shook and took the / shape of starlings flocked or the flame of sunfish staring up at night / from the windshield’s blue-black pond.” Another strong throughline in these poems is stargazing and astrocartography, another kind of attention that requires seeing and making connections: “We place a thing near another thing and it throws a spark, / makes a third somehow in there and out, a process we name art (or / God?).”

A superb collection of poems that are haunted by grief yet touched by grace.

Pub Date: April 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62-288912-9

Page Count: 90

Publisher: Stephen F. Austin University Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

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CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

An ancient Greek manuscript connects humanity's past, present, and future.

Stranger, whoever you are, open this to learn what will amaze you” wrote Antonius Diogenes at the end of the first century C.E.—and millennia later, Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is his fitting heir. Around Diogenes' manuscript, "Cloud Cuckoo Land"—the author did exist, but the text is invented—Doerr builds a community of readers and nature lovers that transcends the boundaries of time and space. The protagonist of the original story is Aethon, a shepherd whose dream of escaping to a paradise in the sky leads to a wild series of adventures in the bodies of beast, fish, and fowl. Aethon's story is first found by Anna in 15th-century Constantinople; though a failure as an apprentice seamstress, she's learned ancient Greek from an elderly scholar. Omeir, a country boy of the same period, is rejected by the world for his cleft lip—but forms the deepest of connections with his beautiful oxen, Moonlight and Tree. In the 1950s, Zeno Ninis, a troubled ex–GI in Lakeport, Idaho, finds peace in working on a translation of Diogenes' recently recovered manuscript. In 2020, 86-year-old Zeno helps a group of youngsters put the story on as a play at the Lakeport Public Library—unaware that an eco-terrorist is planting a bomb in the building during dress rehearsal. (This happens in the first pages of the book and continues ticking away throughout.) On a spaceship called the Argos bound for Beta Oph2 in Mission Year 65, a teenage girl named Konstance is sequestered in a sealed room with a computer named Sybil. How could she possibly encounter Zeno's translation? This is just one of the many narrative miracles worked by the author as he brings a first-century story to its conclusion in 2146.

As the pieces of this magical literary puzzle snap together, a flicker of hope is sparked for our benighted world.

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982168-43-8

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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