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How to Review: Starting Out + Pro-tips from Carleigh Baker

Are you looking to get into the review game? Are you a seasoned reviewer and want to hone your skills? Wherever you land on the review spectrum, PRISM has put together five simple starting-out steps to make the task of reviewing a book a little less daunting. Additionally, Carleigh Baker, author of Bad Endings and bad-ass reviewer for The Globe and Mail, shares some insider pro-tips.

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Hot-tempered Divinity: A Review of Aidan Chafe’s “Right Hand Hymns”

Review by Annick MacAskill

Right Hand Hymns

Aidan Chafe

Frog Hollow Press

Last October, my friend David Alexander (Modern Warfare, Anstruther Press, 2016) and I went to an Anstruther Press and Baseline Press chapbook launch to see a few poets we knew. When I heard Aidan Chafe read from his debut chapbook, Sharpest Tooth (Anstruther Press, 2016), I immediately wanted to buy his collection. I was drawn by Chafe’s strong imagery and measured, almost laconic consideration of the destructive ferocity and violence of the natural and human worlds.

When I saw that Chafe had released a second chapbook, Right Hand Hymns (Frog Hollow Press, 2017), I was eager to read his new work. The theme of violence continues in this collection, but instead of exploring this theme in poems about hunting, woods, and wolves, Right Hand Hymns evokes a similar wildness and chaos in poems about family, religion, and mental health.

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Next Year For Sure

Loneliness, Polyamory, and Possibility in Zoey Leigh Peterson’s “Next Year, For Sure”

Review by Carly Rosalie Vandergriendt

Next Year, For Sure

Zoey Leigh Peterson

Doubleday Canada

It’s tempting to call Next Year, For Sure, a novel about a millennial couple that happens upon polyamory, a “light” read. Because in many ways, it is a light read. Award-winning short story writer and debut novelist Zoey Leigh Peterson’s prose is deceptively addictive, the kind of writing that can easily keep a reader up until two or three in the morning. (I read it twice; I stayed up late finishing it both times.) Her main characters, nine-years-and-still-going-strong couple Chris and Kathryn, are sensitive and self-aware yuppie Vancouverites who verge on being likeable to a fault. The novel opens with Chris telling Kathryn he has a crush on Emily, a woman he met at the laundromat. Kathryn suggests he take her out on a date, the plot takes off at a brisk pace, alternating between Chris and Kathryn’s point of view as they navigate opening their relationship up to a third person over the course of the year that follows.

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White Tears

The Suffering You Didn’t Have: On Hari Kunzru’s “White Tears”

White Tears
Hari Kunzru
Penguin Random House, 2017

Review by Will Preston

On a dark night in 1920s Mississippi, the story goes, the bluesman Robert Johnson walked out to the crossroads and sold his soul to the Devil. He was gifted with a preternatural ability to play the guitar in return: the strings bending beneath his fingers, his voice filled with what sounded like the anguish of generations. When he died mysteriously at 27, he left behind almost nothing, just a scattering of records and a swirling fog of myths. Johnson’s songs feel bracingly authentic to this day, filled with the violence and repression facing blacks in the Depression-era South. But the stories told of his life are anything but authentic. Johnson’s identity was hijacked in the decades after his death, largely by white fans eager to spread legends and half-truths about the voice in their record player. This was not an unusual legacy for black, pre-war blues musicians. “White urbanites reshaped the music to fit their own tastes and desires,” the historian Elijah Wald has written, “creating a rich mythology that often bears little resemblance to the reality of the musicians they admired.”

There is a Johnson-esque character at the heart of Hari Kunzru’s new novel, White Tears, a 1920s bluesman named Charlie Shaw. Like Johnson, Shaw is a ghost, a shadowy figure who made a single recording in 1928—an eerie, haunted song called “Graveyard Blues”—and then vanished without a trace. When the record is unearthed in present-day New York and posted on the Internet, it sparks a frenzy among record collectors who are captivated by Shaw’s voice, “ancient and bloody and violent,” rising up from the crackle. It’s the kind of voice that burrows inside the listener, straight to “the guiltiest of his secrets.” (166)

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