49th Shelf September Recommends

Acclaimed author Caroline Adderson has recommended Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush on the 49th Shelf blog. She wrote some really lovely things, and I’m so glad she ‘got’ my jokes. The review in full is posted below, read other reviews in the Recommends series here.

“Set in grody strip clubs and greasy spoons, peopled with “tramps and lunatics,” “an assortment of creeps and lowlifes with bad breath,” battered girlfriends, and Soviet-scarred chamber maids, this energetic collection presents a “raw humanity defiantly festive in the face of poverty and despair.” Powell, also a poet, is a painterly prose writer, not just in her many references to visual art, but her gorgeous images. One character lives alone in a sagging house “surrounded by the upturned scarabs of old snowmobiles.” A husband lurking in a dark corner is “filleted by shadows from the Venetian blinds.” But what makes this book so striking is how Powell sets up certain expectations, then, like the roller coaster in the title story, banks sharply and plunges us into an entirely unexpected narrative. The hilarious one-liners contribute a tonal juxtaposition that adds to the surprise. “You can tell a lot about people by the shape of their ass,” one character asserts. “It’s like a second face.” A soon-to-be bride returns to her hideous hometown intent on starting a coven, but only manages to sign up a fellow waitress who sees the coven “like a kind of mystical Tupperware party. A local hockey star had started a burger chain and now had a row of vintage Corvettes. Who knew where the coven thing might end?”

“So many awful things happen when you’re not even looking,” Powell writes. So true! But the grim material in these stories is leavened by dark comedy, the author’s hard-boiled irreverence, her dazzling prose, and, miraculously, an undercurrent of comic book and fairy tale enchantment. The way you look at life determines how you’ll get through it. Powell stares right into the grimy places and whoops.”