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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Dear Enemy
A Review of Dear Enemy
by Jessica Alexander

Spencer Dew

Words here are light and fire, sensations and performances, flavors and bodily reactions, hard objects in the world and paths of enacting freedom or submission. This is writing where words morph and expand, yet writing, too, with a wry sense of distance from the very pyrotechnics it enacts. In the title piece, for instance, we are given a passage of entrancing poetic work:

The enemy’s favorite word was if. As in if I were a sword, what would you do? Before the enemy, my favorite word was no. It was bold and black and trampling glass. During the enemy, my mouth was yes. It tasted like bird-less feathers, or faceless eyelids wincing at light, my heart like a plane on fire. That was not the question. My favorite word was would, as in I would swallow you.

In the first story, by way of contrast, our narrator is a writer explaining a story, explaining a metaphor—“evil creatures in the basement” that eat a couple’s cat and, ultimately, the couple. The couple’s marriage is limping on, ignoring the problems between them, see? Which is like a monster, or a number of monsters. The narrator walks us through drafts, dissecting her own process in a parody of a writing workshop—“This last part really confused people,” or “Around this time in my revision process, Donald Trump was elected president.” The more the author talks about the story—and cites the story, and explains the story, and recovers a genealogy of how the story came to be—the prose becomes more and more frenetic, wildly associative, unhinged, seductive. Rationalizing a justification of a contested choice, the narrator tells us that a specific move “was INTENTIONAL because my writing is evolving in this way where I just throw a pointy rock at the reader’s eyeball, but then, one millisecond before it blinds them, it turns into five or maybe six eagles, if that makes any sense. At least that’s what I was going for.”

That’s close to what Alexander achieves—rock-turned-eagles, words tasting like feathers or blinded, faceless eyes—throughout this addictive, often hilarious, little book. Characters here worry that sex is a scam, chronicle the accumulation of body parts around the house, deal with having a potato and a chicken as dinner guests, and all the while quote folk cures and discuss snipers and froth on in voices that alternate between a high, frantic pitch and the “gurgle” of the garbage disposal in one story here, overstuffed with remains: “Our garbage disposal gurgled. It spat flecks of skin the color of cherry pits. It choked on our bones.”

Cannibalism is a recurring implication—even a desire—and bodies, the bodies of humans, shift shape, specifically skin in relation to bones, such that even when both elements remain in or on the person they are associated with, these people sometimes look like sacks, or like pelicans, like suits in the wrong size. So people sit down on the toilet to cry, and then a bear shows up at the front door, ringing the bell, and dead people walk in and out of photographs. That is how things go here, the flaming opposite of the sort of heavy-handed, metaphor-centered, necessarily and easily decipherable narrative described by the mad writer at the start of this book. Alexander does not give us parables; she gives us parallel worlds.

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