Starred Review. Monson's inventive collection illuminates the barren landscape of Michigan's snowbound Upper Peninsula with a glittering mosaic of short stories, lists, instructions, poetic obituaries and illustrations of radio schematics. His interconnected vignettes flash across a region that is "now in some ways a place only for ghosts and tourists," revealing a smalltown cast of characters defined by shared loss. The ice—frosting the roads, crusting Lake Superior—exerts an inexorable pull on these people, spinning their minivans, swallowing their snowmobiles, claiming young and old and drunk and sober. While they mourn the disappeared and deceased, their self-destructive impulses battle deeply rooted survival instincts that flourish despite impoverished and circumscribed lives. Artful metaphors resonate throughout: snow is sustenance and death. Radio waves displace language and imply an unbridgeable gap between people. Liz, a drowned high school student, embodies needlessly lost youth. Monson alternates more narrative pieces with second-person instructive messages, such as "Instructions for Divers: On Retrieval," about extracting wrecks from the lake, that evoke with immediacy a harsh existence. In "The Big 32," a catalogue of descending temperatures and their corresponding events, Monson writes that at –11 degrees, "tears freeze complete, nosehairs froze twenty degrees ago; so crying will get you nowhere." Monson's is an original new voice, and this poignant, lyrical collection conjures a powerful sense of place. (May)
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In an exceptionally poetic fiction debut, Monson charts the losses and grief of a small Upper Michigan Peninsula community, an icily beautiful and pitiless place where boredom is as fatal as the blizzards. The death of high-school senior Elizabeth, who drowns when she drives out onto the ice on prom night, causes much soul-searching on the part of her fellow students, the vice principal, and a chemistry teacher who collects vintage cleaning products. Monson gauges their sorrow and quests for order and solace in an assemblage of haunting short stories, wry litanies, imaginary obits, and prose poems. This cathartic scrapbook ultimately records a constellation of deaths, including a murder, all linked by the tender musings of Monson's melancholy and thoughtful central narrator, a young man whose mother has died, whose brother is disabled, and whose father has withdrawn into the attic with his ham radio, summoning voices from the ether. By finding poetry in electricity, radio waves, and weather, Monson illuminates the power that drives people to acts both deadly and life affirming. Donna Seaman
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