Take Me With You By Andrea Gibson, illustrated by Sarah J. Coleman.
(Plume, 199 pages, $15.)
Take me with you, the title of this little volume of poetry says, and you will want to. The appealing book is pocket-sized and shaped (and colored, if you are wearing blue jeans), packed with short, quotable poems about love and life and gender and the world at large.
Genderqueer poet and activist Andrea Gibson got their start as a spoken-word artist. Gibson’s poems are not profound or subtle, but they are forthright and pithy, putting into words the feelings of anyone who has been angry, or outraged, or embarrassed, or in love.
Some are clever. (“She’s a metal pole in zero-degree weather. I’m afraid if I put my tongue on her, it will stick forever.”) Some are simple. (“What if the weather keeps changing and we don’t?”) Some are gross. (I won’t quote the tampon poem here.)
Others are violent, angry, fun, witty or moving. (“I know a thousand things louder than a soldier’s gun. I know the heartbeat of his mother.”) Some state the obvious, but in a quotable way. “If love did not exist I would be so goddamn sane.”
Who here doesn’t agree?
Andrea Gibson will read at 4 p.m. March 11 at Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul.
Our Lady of the Prairie By Thisbe Nissen.
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 357 pages, $25.)
It’s a high-wire act, making your protagonist annoying, drawing her as self-absorbed, perimenopausal, shortsighted, judgmental and, finally, tiresome. In “Our Lady of the Prairie,” Thisbe Nissen has fully committed to each step on the wire with Phillipa Maakestad, theater professor in Iowa.
Phillipa variously has an affair, suspects her mother-in-law of Nazi collaboration, sacrifices for an addictive daughter who’s now pregnant and off her meds, slums in a dive bar café, rages against George Bush — the novel is set in 2004 — and, yes, submits to a long bout of spanking from her cuckolded husband. There’s a weird dream sequence about the desperate measures a young woman might take to escape the terrors of war; it goes on for 50 pages, and yet feels tangential to the book’s narrative.
Nissen, in the acknowledgments, said she worked on this book over 14 years, which may account for all the story lines — there’s also an Amish theme — and the sometimes overwrought character development. That’s usually something readers appreciate; perhaps there are just too many characters.
Still, curiosity drives the book: Will Phillipa return to her husband? Will her daughter abandon the baby? Will Bush’s re-election turn the U.S. into one of Dante’s circles of hell? Will Nissen throw us a bone that lets us feel a kinship with Phillipa instead of wanting to block her on Facebook? Nissen clearly has worked hard on this novel. The novelty of a less than sympathetic narrator may be worth the ride. But the final page comes with some relief.