about the author

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.

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The Coordinates of [His] Separation
A Review of The Coordinates of [His] Separation
by Kevin Ó Cúinn

Spencer Dew

A family in a gated community paints their naked bodies with camouflage so they can run barefoot around the neighborhood, hunting for meat. Thelonious Monk begins following a man around, providing a soundtrack to his everyday life, complicating the logistics of his commutes. In another story, pills provide instant knowledge of vocabulary and grammar, while, in another, the “The Body Language of Trees” is personified, wandering around motivated by a sense of “Civic Duty.” Yet the book is strongest when absurdity is merely background, not the focus. In the tale of an individual who claims he “failed to find favour with the city’s editors” and thus embarks on an obsessive quest to come to some objective understanding of just how badly he failed, for instance, the plot is a set-up for an exploration of feeling. The man takes out newspaper advertisements and hires web technicians and statisticians and eventually speaks on the phone to someone who may or may not be the actual Dalai Lama—none of which gets him any closer to satisfaction. The tantalizingly unsated: this is Ó Cúinn’s forte. The best stories here have no reveal, hinge on no pun or formula; rather, they abandon the reader, within the span of a few scant sentences, inside an indelible moment, a feeling, a character’s mind, trying to work out the why and wherefore with an intimate immediacy that cannot be shaken:

The clock on the wall is set for another time zone. Or the battery is dying. She remembers another hike, the one with her ex-ex; she remembers the cheese fondue, how they’d dunked burger and sliced white bread and shared a pint of Heineken; she remembers not wanting to leave.


He rereads the letter—trawls through it in a different light, a different room. Slants, loops, dots; he searches, feels the indentations through the page. He thinks about her choice of words. He empties the glass and goes out for air. Back home, he retrieves the letter from the bin. He rereads, trawls through it in a different room, a different light.

or a flicker of recognition at a stoplight, a middle finger raised, and

He’ll realise later, then google her, call someone they used to know. The someone they used to know will do the same, causing a series of ripples, consequences from a chance encounter at the level of a glance.

The accumulation of effect: that’s what Ó Cúinn nails, dropping the reader into the purely subjective, into the experience of the Proustian trigger: pictographs on a foreign menu becoming isolated snippets of memory, or the internal pondering of “how differently we saw the past. And the present, the subjunctive,” a phrasing that doesn’t stop, but adds angles, valences, and then leaves the reader, at the end of the piece, pondering a labyrinth from within.

Official Kevin Ó Cúinn Web Site
Official Ravenna Press Web Site

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