Thursday, February 23, 2012

Two books worth rescuing

Originally printed July 28, 2011.

When we checked in with Rescue Press this time last year, the Milwaukee-based organization was celebrating its inaugural book offering: "The Smaller Half," a collection of poetry by local Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate Marc Rahe.

Managing editor Daniel Khalastchi and editor-in-chief Caryl Pagel -- both Workshop graduates -- said Rescue Press came about because the more they spoke with their writing colleagues and students, the more they realized there are more good writers out there than there are publishers to print them.

"It's so difficult to get good work into print," Khalastchi said. "There's really a state of emergency in print media. ... We're just trying to rescue the world from the absence of pieces of literature."
In the past year, Khalastchi and Pagel have managed to rescue a few more books from non-existence, the most recent being:

» Andrea Rexilius' poetry collection, "To Be Human Is To Be A Conversation."

» And fellow Workshop graduate Madeline McDonnell's short story collection, "There Is Something Inside, It Wants To Get Out."

Rexilius's collection lives up to the "conversation" in its title. Not only do many of the poems explore the duality of mind/body, twinning and sisterhood -- including a whole section on "Sister Sutures" -- and not only does Rexilius include lengthy quotes from Martin Buber on the I/Thou relationship, but some of the pages feature prompt-like questions followed by so much white space that they all but require readers to respond with their own essay-length replies.

"One unifies by splitting the beginning of the other," Rexilius writes in one of the many poems titled "Essay On Sisterhood."

The three stories in McDonnell's collection are ever more worthy of rescue.

The first, "Wife," follows a 26-year-old graduate student named Wednesday who is having trouble telling her mother, a second-wave feminist professor who has written several articles on the the theme of "Marriage as Legalized Rape," that she not only has accepted a marriage proposal from an unacceptable History Ph.D. candidate, but also that she is actually toying with the idea of becoming "just a wife ... a bad wife, even."

"'Convinced as you are that I should never marry,' Wednesday once asked, 'why on earth did you give me a name that starts with "wed"?'" Wednesday asks, only to discover that her mother wanted to name her after Tuesday Weld, star of "Sex Kittens Go to College," but decided Wednesday was "more original."

The second story, "Physical Education," tells the story of a high school girl with cancer whose middle-age father begins to attend gym class with her. At first she is bemused, if not actually pleased, with his act of solidarity -- as she is with his insisting on praying for her even though he doesn't really believe in God. But his all-or-nothing competitiveness slowly complicates an already complicated situation.

The third story, "Trouble," tells a haunting tale of Lucy Penrose, née Burke, whose current pregnancy triggers unresolved memories of an unwanted pregnancy when she was 16.
As fellow Workshop graduate Kevin Brockmeier writes in his blurb, "(McDonnell) approaches the story as a hang-glider approaches the wind, bending herself to its movements."

Both recently "rescued" authors will be on hand to read at 7 p.m. today in Prairie Lights Books.

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at

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