Romance with Small-Time Crooks
By Alexis Ivy
Review by Karen Weyant
BlazeVOX [books], 2013
Paperback, 100 pp., $16
When I was ten years old, I wanted to be a pool hall girl—one of those teenage girls who hung out at the local dives in town. Pool hall girls were all tight jeans and tank tops and tattoos. They wore red lipstick and teased their hair high (this was the 1980s). Trails of cigarette smoke always lingered behind them. They were, in one word, cool. And as a young girl, I wanted to be cool.
Somehow, I was reminded of those pool hall girls when I read Alexis Ivy’s Romance with Small-Time Crooks. Ivy’s first full-length poetry collection details a young woman’s life from youth to adulthood through booze and drugs, sex and violence, loss, and eventually, hope. Essentially, this book is the coming-of-age story of a heroine who is resilient, if not a bit rough around the edges, but always a fighter and survivor.
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The Electric Affinities by Wade Stevenson reviewed by Kirkus Reviews!!!
A free-love opus set in a bygone era. Ben Steinberg, a successful architect, hosts a collective of artists and free-spirits in his Sag Harbor, N.Y., house in 1969. Among the damaged but earnest people that move through his home are Andre, a director; Robert, a Vietnam War veteran; Carolina, a spiritual youth endeavoring to live without restraint; and Maya, the apex of a romantic triangle that consumes her suitors. The plot follows a fairly straightforward design: As the year progresses, each character wrestles with their own particular demons. Robert’s disenchantment with the world is reified in his aversion to visiting his wealthy grandmother, the woman who raised him; for Carolina, it’s an evolving quest to live as freely as possible that, eventually, takes her away from Sag Harbor. But the plot, as it is, feels secondary here. The real tension comes from within. Working with a true ensemble cast, Stevenson explores the radical aspirations of each of his characters while balancing them against the dramatic irony of a world that didn’t turn out quite the way it was supposed to. Perhaps the best stand-in for the contemporary reader is Robert. He may have been disillusioned by his experience overseas (as readers may have been by the course of history), but he yearns for some kind of meaning in his life, something true to aspire toward. The same goes for everybody in the novel; amid pain and loneliness, they look for some kind of purpose in a world that doesn’t seem prepared to accept them. It’s a familiar enough theme for books set in the late 1960s, but Stevenson’s effortless prose brings a freshness to what could otherwise have easily been a trite tale of hippie naïveté. He laces the story with insightful mantras throughout: “It’s not like cooking—there’s no measuring cup. Freedom has to be unconditional or not at all.” The narrative movements here are subtle, often more interested in providing a full picture of the characters’ struggles than in building a propulsive plot. At times, the pace may feel sluggish for some, but readers willing to stick with it will be rewarded with a stunning resolution. An atmospheric, evocative tale of youth endeavoring to live free.
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