Jackson: The Iron Willed Commander

“Old Hickory”

Review by Joey Madia

If all you know about the seventh president of the United States is his long, chiseled face and mass of white hair on the twenty-dollar bill, you’ve been missing out.

This excellent biography begins with a prologue covering the rabble-rousing ruckus that was Jackson’s inauguration on March 4, 1829. Jackson was a new kind of candidate—unlike his six predecessors in this still-new nation, he was a “man of the people.” In no way an insider, this rugged frontiersman who broke the mold of presidents coming from Massachusetts or Virginia had strong beliefs and was never afraid to defend or act on them. John Quincy Adams, the outgoing president, refused to attend.

Not unlike Alexander Hamilton, Jackson was a “willful boy with a chip on his shoulder” (6) and a mess of contradictions—a daily lifelong reader of scripture, he was also known for his ability to swear with the best of them. He and his brothers fought in the American Revolution, starting Jackson’s complex relationship with death and loss and his ability to carry on despite being wounded. Also like Hamilton, he had a penchant for duels. He had at least three, the second of which resulted in his being wounded in the torso and his killing his opponent, and the third resulting in his carrying a bullet in his body for years after. While taking his law degree, Jackson solidified his reputation as a “roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, card-playing, mischievous fellow” (15).

A great deal of Jackson’s controversy stems from an innocent clerical error. The love of his life, Rachel, had been in a terrible marriage. Leaving her abusive husband she fell in love with and married Jackson, although she was technically not divorced. Jackson’s enemies—and they were considerable—would use this against him, raising his ire as they portrayed the innocent Rachel as a bigamist and unwholesome woman. Continue reading

Witness in the Convex Mirror

“An Innovator, Always”

Review by Joey Madia

It is always a special day when a new work by this innovative and energetic writer arrives in my mailbox. Over the past 10 years, I’ve reviewed about 20 percent of Tabios’ over fifty published works, at times being inspired to be as innovative as the poet and the particular work in how I did so.

Part of her ability to be so prolific is the way she reworks, recycles, and reimagines her own writings and the writings of others—in this case, as the Author’s Note indicates: “Each poem begins with 1 or 1–2 lines from ‘Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror’ by John Ashbery.” In many of my previous Tabios reviews I talk at length about her various means of working with existing pieces to create something new, so I won’t belabor it here. Instead, I’ll say that ALL work a writer or other artist produces is linked to and derivative of something—many things—that have come before.

Tabios simply has the self-awareness to be up front about it, even when it is more ephemeral than repurposing lines from another poet’s already existing poem.

Although Tabios has always been to some extent political, be it the Filipino diaspora, 9/11 and the world ever since, or the complexities of gender or adoption for adopter and adoptee, I found Witness in the Convex Mirror to take it to a new level. And the clue is in the substitution of Witness for Self-Portrait. As many a wise and wizened soul has told us, to Witness is to be responsible to Speak. And speak Tabios does, on a variety of pressing subjects in a hurting and hurtful world. So this review will be less about the technical achievement and more about the content of the poems and the responses they evoke. Continue reading

Soothing the Savage Swamp Beast

Review by Joey Madia

If you are looking for a weird but fun ride this summer, this novella might just be for you. But a quick word of warning. Know what you’re getting into. As you’ll notice, this is published by Bizarro Pulp Press. So let’s get some definitions from Wikipedia:

Bizarro fiction: a contemporary literary genre, which often uses elements of absurdism, satire, and the grotesque, along with pop-surrealism and genre fiction staples, in order to create subversive, weird, and entertaining works.

Pulp fiction: lurid, exploitative, and sensational subject matter
So, Bizarro Pulp… you can only imagine. And you should.

But this label has nothing to do with quality. Although it is in many ways the ink-on-paper analog of Slasher Films, complete with lots of violence, sex, and, well… bizarreness, it can also be just as fine and releasing as a Rob Zombie film.

If that’s your sort of thing. If it is, read on. I don’t read a lot of Bizarro, but I have read and reviewed some anthologies and stand-alones. Knowing what I am getting when I am going in, I adjust my mindset and just enjoy, if the author’s talent allows.

Because all the same standards apply. You need interesting characters with an arc, and an at least semi-cohesive narrative and an interesting problem to solve.

Although, in Bizarro, the characters are often deeper in the shit at the end than when they started. And this is truly its appeal. Continue reading

FOR BLOOD OR JUSTICE, Stormkind: Episode 1

Review by Joey Madia

As I opened with in my review of Chuck Regan’s short story collection six months ago, I have known him and his work for a long time. Thirty-three years. And, in that time, I have witnessed his growth from a talented sketch artist and budding graphic novel writer and graphic artist to a novelist, graphic novelist, and short story writer whose immense world-building and attention to detail conspire to create expansive, immersive story-scapes that combine science fiction, fantasy, pop culture, and a deft mix of comedy and darkness.

For Blood or Justice represents the next level in Regan’s world-building and his in progress and planned meta-verse. The book opens with a Prologue taking us back to 1890, when a meteor brought vast changes to Earth. So many changes, in fact, that historical timelines were shifted from what we know them to be. Rather than bogging down the narrative, Regan uses footnotes to define, contextualize, and, in some cases, point the reader to other works and facts about his alternative history timeline (such as a longer life for Tesla and a much worse ending for Nixon than resigning).

Although I like very little about the twenty-first century and where it’s taken technology, as a writer of meta-verse stories, I appreciate what our capabilities are to package and distribute parts and pieces of our large stories in this way. I especially liked the alt-origin of the Philly Phanatic. Continue reading

An Odyssey: A Father, a Son, and an Epic

Review by K.P. Ambroziak

There’s an intelligent and exquisite beauty to Daniel Mendelsohn’s writing. He’s clearly an educator, a deep thinker, a keen critic, and a writer in tune with an effective mode of conversation. I was taken with AN ODYSSEY from the start—once I had gotten used to his writing style, which emulates ring composition with miniature strokes that are amusing as the read goes on.

I was moved to tears by the end of the work, despite knowing the inevitable outcome. It’s part memoir, part self-exploration, part lesson in all things Homer (if you’ve never read Homer, what the *heck* are you waiting for?), but its strength lies with the gentle hand he uses to show how similar we are to the ancients. If you appreciate Homer’s “Odyssey,” you will certainly enjoy this read, and I’d wager take away a trove of antique treasures.

I’ve taught the epic to college students, and found many parallels to my own journey. It requires a certain amount of stamina and patience to lead students to discover the epic’s textual tapestry on their own. Despite how well one may know a text, there are always new things to uncover. Teaching a text seems to teach us this if anything.

But there’s so much to be learned here from Mendelsohn’s curated brilliance. He teaches us about recognition, and the patterns in our own relationships, the ways we do not see those in front of us, the ways others see them better, if less honestly. We are strangers to those who know us best—or should know us best. And yet recognition may come in the most simplest of moments, when memory and forgetfulness collide. We take people for granted. We think we know and yet we are strangers on a ship, passing each other in the ink of our cosmos. How does a son not know his father? How does a father not know his son? Are we tricked by the gods, disguised in plain sight for some higher purpose, some bigger plan? These are notions we grapple with in the epic, but also in our very un-heroic and un-epic daily lives. To live estranged seems far more reasonable than to share the deepest parts of ourselves. Continue reading