From Publishers Weekly
The ninth outing from Olds (Blood, Tin, Straw
) should again please the many admirers of her raw, vivid and often explicit poems, but might surprise few of them—until the end. As in all her books, Olds works in a demotic free verse, driven by rough enjambments and shocking comparisons: she devotes much of her energy (three of five sections here) to sex, remembered pain and parenthood—the dramatic, abusive household in which she grew up and her tender relationship with her own daughter. Olds depicts the traumas of her first decades with undeniable, if occasionally cartoonish, force: When I think of people who kill and eat people,/ I think of how lonely my mother was. Olds can also offer high-volume poetry of public protest, as in the set of sonnet-sized poems against war with which the book begins. What seems new here are Olds's reactions to her mother's last years, and to her mother's death. On an antidepressant, briefly adorable, and then in failing health, my mother sounds like me,/ the way I sound to myself—one/ who doesn't know, who fails and hopes. Both the failures and the hopes find here a voice that takes them seriously. (Sept.)
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*Starred Review* An audacious virtuoso, Olds shares perceptions so archaic they predate consciousness and tells of dark deeds worthy of Greek myths transpiring in an otherwise ordinary middle-class, mid-twentieth-century American household. What makes her work so potent is her countering of the shock and shiver of her baroquely bloody revelations with poetic structures so refined and sturdy, they have something of the Shaker about them, minus, of course, the celibacy. Olds is a moralist, and she does believe in confession, in expiation, as long as it is contained in clean-lined, well-keeled vessels. In another breathtaking collection, Olds begins with “War,” a portrait gallery of the displaced, the maimed, and the cruel, iconic poems as haunting as paintings by Goya. She then extends her long series on family trauma, writing with chilling restraint of moments of malevolent selfishness, brutality, and weirdness. But Olds also writes with tremendous assertion about a tormented girl’s revenge as she comes into womanhood, and here Olds sees her fierce mother gentled by age and illness, their terrible adversity canceled as death nears. This is a pivotal collection, and Olds signals a sea change in moments of gleeful self-mockery and resounding catharsis. --Donna Seaman