Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup February 24-28, 2020

Book of the Day Roundup art for Feb. 24-28, 2020

A Century of Votes for Women

American Elections since Suffrage

Book Cover
Christina Wolbrecht
J. Kevin Corder
Cambridge University Press
Softcover $24.99 (330pp)
978-1-316-63807-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In 2020, the Nineteenth Amendment turns 100, and Christina Wolbrecht and J. Kevin Corder’s A Century of Votes for Women examines its history and effects in direct, accessible terms.

Moving chronologically, the book first details the post-Civil War social changes that weakened traditional arguments against women’s voting rights. It shows that industrialization increased job and educational opportunities for women and dissolved notions that women were limited to their homes without exposure to meaningful outside knowledge. By providing this historical context, the book illustrates how cultural trends shaped women’s concerns and votes, as well as how their priorities and votes looped back to shape elections.

Viewing history as made up of distinct eras, each chapter begins with an overview of its era of concern before showing how women within it voted compared to people in other groups. This easy-to-navigate approach merges history and voting data to indicate larger themes and trends. In the process, the book dispels stereotypes about gendered voting priorities, including contemporary tendencies to presume that women are Democrats and that men favor Republicans.

The book is effective in showing that women’s voting priorities have changed over time, as well as that both major political parties have spun out policies that either attract or lose women voters. Clear graphs are used to explore these topics further, while descriptive subheadings build on larger points and broaden the text’s usefulness. Detailed footnotes that are drawn from a range of sources contemporaneous to the era in question enhance each section’s value.

When the Nineteenth Amendment became law, everyone, including its ardent supporters, wondered how such monumental change would play out. A Century of Votes for Women probes the historical record to give a thoughtful and interesting answer.

SUSAN WAGGONER (December 27, 2019)

The Wanting Life

Book Cover
Mark Rader
Unnamed Press
Softcover $18.00 (320pp)
978-1-944700-99-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Mark Rader’s The Wanting Life is a cross-generational novel focused on happiness, fulfillment, and love.

Father Paul Novack is dying. Foregoing chemotherapy, he’s resigned to letting the cancer run its course. He and his sister, Britta—who is still dealing with her own grief and self-destructive tendencies in the wake of her husband’s death—spend what time he has left at a parishioner’s Cape Cod house.

Paul flounders in depression, but it’s not just rooted in his disease. He’s hounded by regrets and thoughts of what his life might have been like if he’d left the priesthood in pursuit of romance. He asks Britta to travel with him to Rome, where he hopes to find solace in memories of his theological studies and his relationship with a young man, Luca.

Paul’s narrative dominates the first half of the novel, which then gives way to Britta’s daughter, Maura, who’s deep in marital strife. Maura’s husband discovered that she was having an affair with a man she met at an artists’ retreat. Struggling through a morass of feelings, Maura is torn between perceived true love and the affection she has for her two children, one of whom has Asperger’s.

Of the two intertwined stories, Paul’s is the more compelling and sympathetic. Despite his persistent desires, he chose to be a celibate priest, providing guidance and comfort to others. Maura’s story, including Paul’s final advice to her, muddles the novel’s takeaway, seeming to elevate personal happiness above sacrifice and commitment. In this examination of intimacy, sexual fulfillment is set up as the ultimate form.

The Wanting Life is a novel whose leads are unafraid to explore the complicated territory of human desire.

MEAGAN LOGSDON (December 27, 2019)

The Seep

Book Cover
Chana Porter
Soho Press
Hardcover $25.00 (216pp)
978-1-64129-086-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The invasion was gentler than expected: The Seep entered the water supply, melded with people, and dulled their fears, offering them a future free of pain, need, and death. But there are some who find this new utopia wanting. Chana Porter’s mindbending The Seep issues a keen for lost passion, sharp edges and all.

Omnipresent but unseen, operating like nanotechnology or an animating spirit, The Seep joins with sentient beings and inanimate objects alike, binding all together. Through The Seep: you can feel the history of a tree, can trace your atoms back to time immemorial, can change your form. Bears become like people, mourning lovers assume the faces of the departed. Once an artist, Trina becomes a doctor, deriving new satisfaction from helping others; her wife, Deeba, decides that she wants to start over as a baby.

Deeba’s rebirth is like a death to Trina. Already dubious about the magnanimity of The Seep, she finds herself unable to cope. She’s resistant to keeping up appearances, loses herself in alcohol, and mourns with ferocity. When she encounters a boy untouched by The Seep, who’s just entering this new and dangerous world, protecting him seems like a chance to redress all she’s lost.

The Seep is an intoxicating takeover narrative, its promises as appealing on their surfaces as they are frightening in their implications. Trina remains reticent to give herself over to the beings that erased disease, poverty, and divisions; she walks through a world in which strife has been erased, yet only she seems like more than an automaton. As The Seep gets bolder and its moves more presumptuous, reluctance turns to alarm, and questions about what we lose when we sacrifice our worry arise, brazen and demanding.

The Seep is a daring paean to human vulnerability and a bold speculative inquest into what makes life worth living.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (December 27, 2019)

The Snow Collectors

Book Cover
Tina May Hall
Dzanc Books
Softcover $16.95 (224pp)
978-1-950539-04-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Tina May Hall’s intoxicating The Snow Collectors, a mournful mystery unfolds in an icy town, at the juncture where the past meets modernity.

Not long ago, Henna lost her parents and twin sister to the storm-swept sea. In her grief, she moved as far north as civilization would allow, to an Arctic village where she could hole up and write encyclopedia entries for pay. Save for her dog, Henna wished to avoid all living beings, to leave her heart “down deep … where only blind and armored things survived.” And she was successful enough at avoidance before a woman’s body turned up in her bushes, an antique letter fragment clutched in her hands.

That scrap thrusts Henna into an archival conversation with Lady Jane and Captain John Franklin, famous because of his ill-fated nineteenth-century expedition; her disquisitions lead her into danger. The rich, handsome police chief’s connected pushiness sounds alarm bells that Henna seems to miss, though her oblivious posture may owe more to fatalism than yearning.

Though set in a near future when now-endangered bees, birds, and glaciers are gone, the text has heirloom sensibilities. Henna narrates, her purling phrases functioning like dirge, memorializing words as they fade into silence and passion as it buzzes to its peaks. Her fascination with nineteenth-century snow collectors complements her own preoccupation with resisting impermanence and restraints.

The evocative secondary cast includes a mute neighbor who communicates in poetic fragments; the villagers, “a wooly bunch” loping through the story’s background; a knowledgeable librarian, the only character whose dialogue is grounded; three old men who act as a Greek chorus, commenting on the townspeople’s comings and goings; and a steampunk-garbed outsider whose fascination is esoterica. They each contribute to the book’s dreamy Gothic atmosphere, which is redolent of candlelight and incense, marked by damask decorations and houses ablaze against the snow.

Its brutality tempered by its lovely phraseology, The Snow Collectors is an unusual mystery whose quirks are worth giving in to.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (December 27, 2019)

Asteroid Goldberg

Passover in Outer Space

Book Cover
Brianna Caplan Sayres
Merrill Rainey, illustrator
Intergalactic Afikoman
Hardcover $18.95 (40pp)
978-1-951365-00-4
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Get ready for a Passover Seder unlike any other. When Asteroid and her family get stranded in space on their way home from Pluto, they rally together to creatively observe time-honored customs. Staying true to tradition while feasting is kind of tricky in zero gravity where the only ladle around is the Big Dipper, but it’s also lots of fun, especially with the help of colorful friends willing to try a little something different.

PALLAS GATES MCCORQUODALE (December 27, 2019)

Barbara Hodge

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