Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
To send your new book to decomP for possible review, see our guidelines. To find out what’s currently under consideration, visit our review queue.
Renstrom, who teaches both writing and research with an emphasis on science and science fiction—and who runs the fascinating Could This Happen? blog, which looks at science fiction via the lens of science and vice versa—collects, in this memoir, interlocking essays about specific authors, their texts, and the role those texts played in her life, particularly around her father’s battle with and ultimate death to cancer. After his death, Renstrom finds herself “wandering aimlessly” through various locales and assorted books—through Sweden in the rain, carting around her father’s ashes, to an American grocery store, likewise soaked to the bone from some forest misadventures, dazed with loss and a little drunk on the rhythm and eye for consumerist creation of identity in Don DeLillo: “I press honeydew between my hands, pretending I know how to test its ripeness. Lobsters scrabble around a big tank, their eyes bulging like pinheads. The choices of rice overwhelm me—I pick the kind in the plastic container, the one that could survive a fall.” Here we have a masquerade of a kind of American normalcy, the citizen as consumer, discerning between largely illusory choices. She fills her cart with “foods that are gentle and bland,” ticking off the brand names, then marks her transformed subjectivity, her post-traumatic self, by the dramatic choice of choosing white wine over red, of becoming a white wine drinker, the purchase making the person. It is a savvy piece, raw and ironic at the same time, embodying something of the author it offers homage to, a sort of writing-with that, as a model for memoir, is sure to fascinate readers and writers and teachers of texts.
Renstrom, after all, is a teacher, too, her letters to Ray Bradbury—idolizations seems an apt enough term—express their love for the master, not just for his words but for the wonders his words work on her students. Through their responses to Bradbury, she writes, she comes to “know my students have souls.”
Some connections are a bit less smooth. She treats Love in the Time of Cholera because it was “the book I was reading when Dad died. It was the book I brought to his chemotherapy treatments every Wednesday.” Her chapter on the Obama election is just that, and not much a trip into Obama’s own book about his father and the absence thereof. But Whitman animates a whirlwind trip around northern Europe, Ishiguro and Camus both speak in their own voices (even to each other), Arthur Clarke offers metaphysical language for the transition on from mourning, and Kurt Vonnegut offers a frame through which life can be viewed as imitating art even as art speaks to the wildly harsh and unbelievable realities of life: “On September 11, 26-year-old Hilda Yolanda Mayol, an employee at a restaurant on the ground floor of the World Trade Center, escaped before the building collapsed. Two months later, American Airlines Flight 587 crashed into a neighborhood in Queens, killing all 260 passengers, including Hilda Yolanda Mayol, who was on her way to the Dominican Republic for a vacation.” And so it goes.
Official Joelle Renstrom Web Site
Official Pelekinesis Web Site