Enemies in Love by Alexis Clark
A German POW, a Black Nurse, and an Unlikely Romance
Non-fiction biography, sociopolitical and military history
The New Press May 2018
Decades before Loving v. Virginia, African-American U.S. Army nurse Elinor Powell and German POW Frederick Albert defied the military, Jim Crow, society’s expectations, and many other challenging circumstances in order to love each other. Enemies in Love tells their harrowing personal tale in the global context of the aftermath of World War I, Hitler’s rise to power, and illogical racial contradictions in everyday civilian life and in the U.S. military during World War II and afterward.
Elinor and Frederick’s story reads like an exquisitely researched historical novel. Family drama, personal demons, war, forbidden attraction, clandestine meetings, and a constant struggle to find a safe place for their superficially unconventional family to settle and to thrive are woven among rarely promoted facts such as the following: The transfer of hundreds of thousands of Axis prisoners of war to American soil is one of the great untold stories of World War II. [page 73]
Eyewitness accounts and impressions shared by family and friends infuse a sense of emotional intimacy in the revelations about Elinor and Frederick as individuals and as a couple. The complexity of their personalities and their strategies for coping with setbacks highlight the daily grind of living in institutionally discriminatory environments.
Generational differences in dealing with racism are also compared and contrasted. Substantial end notes and a detailed index combined with several pages of black and white family photos offer a clear picture of two human beings who negotiated the treacherous and often arbitrary nature of racially segregated society to achieve the ultimate victory of remaining together in love.
Song of Blood & Stone by L. Penelope
Earthsinger Chronicles, Book 1
St. Martin’s Griffin July 2019
Blending the wisdom of ancient parables, anthropomorphic fables, and the sacredness of organized religious philosophies with recurring themes in the endless cycles of human conflict, L. Penelope has composed a symphony that resonates across time and space with its essential truths. Song of Blood & Stone evokes the emotional gravitas of Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant, and Tanya Huff’s Four Quarters stories while projecting its own distinctive voice. Toss in some magical realism, a spin on Sleeping Beauty, and a little steampunk.
Age-wise Jasminda, the struggling farmer, and Jack, the military commander, are young adults, but the story threads weave a mature tale of political intrigue, personal betrayals, misdirection, and complicated romantic entanglements—along with unexpected consequences. Singers versus the Silent. Elsira versus Lagrimar. The Sleeping Queen versus the True Father. Each chapter begins with a parable that sets the tone for the next movement in this beautifully orchestrated work about the haves and the have-nots.
The U.S. or Venezuela or Darfur—anyplace where there’s currently a battle raging about equitable access to resources and opportunities to thrive could stand in for the fictional nations of Elsira and Lagrimar.
On page 292 one of the main characters thinks, “It was as if history and myth had intertwined somehow, and vital facts had been lost or obscured.” With the modern environment of Fake News in mind, the author reminds readers of the cascading impacts of information filtered through assorted biases across generations and around the world. It can generate results like playing a global game of Telephone/Chinese Whispers.
Song of Blood & Stone launches the Earthsinger Chronicles into its own stratosphere of energetic storytelling. Fingers crossed that the second entry in this series reveals more about the mysterious catalyst characters who make pivotal cameos.
Reading Sideways by Dana Seitler
The Queer Politics of Art in Modern American Fiction
Fordham University Press July 2019
Dana Seitler invites readers of Reading Sideways to engage in dynamic conversation about the scope and depth of intersectionality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the subtitle, “queer” is applied in its broadest definition of differing in some odd way from what is usual or normal [Webster’s Dictionary] including, but not limited to, sexual orientation. The author sets up the focus of this text early in the introduction by describing the intersection of gender, sexuality, and ethnicity as directly influencing art forms in American literary fiction leading into the 20th century.
Each of the four substantial chapters is also summarized with a paragraph or two to provide an accurate overview of this ambitious study about art that demands conscious participation from its viewers and readers. Page 2 outlines the author’s methodology: “To track these practices, I enact an interpretive method that I call ‘lateral reading’ or reading sideways, a mode of interpretation that moves horizontally through various historical entanglements…” The shaping of the author’s approach continues on page 7:
…I am suggesting that the late nineteenth and early twentieth century designates [sic] a moment in history, though not the only one, in which we can see the transformation of the question of the aesthetic in relation to political and social practice.
A survey of literary theory using pivotal works of the fin de siècle period begins. Specific fiction authors and titles are exhaustively examined through isolated elements and themes relative to sociopolitical contexts in geography, social class, gender, age, ethnicity, and relationship status. The tone of genuine curiosity and thinking aloud makes the academically dense and intellectually engaging content accessible for the general public. Reading Sideways drills as deep as it spans wide while also presenting concepts of art in various forms as the Russian nesting dolls of human expression.
The author uses the deconstruction of context, voice, and point of view to parse recognition of current social imperatives while critiquing and reimagining them. Each chapter applies a different angle of approach to ask how the status quo shifts and evolves to include and exclude individuals and communities. Recurring themes of personhood generate friction against the limitations of the English literary canon. Aesthetic philosophy, social ideology, political implications, and literary theory overlap and diverge supported by plentiful quotes and notations.
“…over the course of this book, we have witnessed the emergence , in Chapter 1, of an aesthetics of the interrogative, the subjunctive, and the unfinished; in Chapter 2, an aesthetics of the small and the low; in Chapter 3, of doubt; and finally, in Chapter 4, of allusion.” [page 160]
Reading a few pages at a time over several days or weeks may offer the most enjoyable way to digest this cerebrally layered content. Illustrations, end notes, and an index provide a treasure trove of intellectual gems worthy of further study.
****This review contains sexually explicit content****
Super Fun Sexy Times, Vol. 1 by Meredith McClaren
Erotica graphic novel
Oni Press and Limerence Press August 2019
Everyone needs love—even super heroes, archnemeses, super villains, mercenaries, mad scientists, assassins, interstellar beings, non-binary, and gender fluid people. In Super Fun Sexy Times Meredith McClaren’s nuanced characters explore the kink spectrum with humor, compassion, and without judgement. Volume one of what promises to be a titillating series with as much emotional depth as sexual heat is sure to hook adult readers into getting to know more about these intriguing characters. These initial thumbnail biographies and vignettes are effective teasers.
The sexually explicit illustrations are mostly anatomically correct with the exception of one black female’s genitalia. Black box is slang for a black woman’s vagina, but the inner flesh is actually in shades of pink. The attempt made to render that contrast falls a bit short. Generally, humans and other character species are drawn with strong feline and anime influences rendered in a predominately pastel and gray scale palette. Skin colors for the black characters sometimes translate with a grayish undertone that remains common in comics even though it’s not a shade found naturally in real flesh (severely dry and unmoisturized skin included). This challenge in producing truly brown shades to represent people of color continues throughout the industry. Cosmetics manufacturers finally solved their brown pigment issues. Comics will, too. (Eventually?) And in a refreshing switch, almost all of the simply human characters are people of color.