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KNAU's Southwest Book Review: NAU Grad Students Review 3 AZ Authors


If you have readers on your holiday gift giving list, you might consider something written by an Arizona author. In the latest installment of KNAU's Southwest Book Reviews, 3 graduate students in Northern Arizona's creative writing program review the latest works from 3 local authors.

Zoologies, by Alison Hawthorne Deming, reviewed by Kama Shockey

If animals could talk, they'd probably sing the praises of Deming's latest triumph. It's a collection of essays describing her observations and personal experiences of the impact humans have on nature.

In her essays, Deming gives equal importance to all creatures. This is where the genius of her work shines. She'll make the reader care equally about the colony of leaf cutter ants, their home destroyed by a stray boot, as she will with the African elephant whose family is slaughtered for their tusks. Deming writes that people "slap [the ants], spray them, burn them, poison them, turn them one against another to exterminate them, these tiny agents of transformation that have lived for 50,000,000 years on earth." At the end of the passage, you realize there's no difference between the ant and the elephant - killing is killing.

Zoologies invites the reader to discover the beauty of nature which Deming calls "seductive as a pirouetting Sandhill crane". She's one of the rare authors who gives theses unsung animals a voice of their own that the reader will want to hear.

Demigods on Speedway, by Aurelie Sheehan

Demigods on Speedway, by Aurelie Sheehan, reviewed by Jessica Martini

Sheehan's collection of short stories reads like the literary version of the viral photoblog, Humans of New York, except this time, it's humans of Tucson. Sheehan creates a fictional album of desert city dwellers in their daily lives as they cruise down Speedway Boulevard. Much like Humans of New York - which has drawn over 11,000,000 followers on social media - Demigods on Speedway gives us a candid and raw picture of urban life.

Sheehan displays a pantheon of human snapshots with characters ranging from a wealth executive to a single teenage mom. Besides their shared location near the Catalina Mountains, these Tucsonans have another thing in common: a frustrated yet noble desire to transcend the isolation of the city. Sheehan draws connections to Greek mythology throughout the book, capturing the mortal and lonely sides of Zeus, Hera and other fickle gods.

In her collection, Sheehan skillfully takes modern lingo and develops it into poetry-infused prose. Her story "At the Spa", captures the moment when a man's wife and mistress unexpectedly meet. Sheehan writes, "The too-late-ness is in the oil slick of the ylang-ylang, the cucumber in the cucumber gone foul, the world music...soured like an old LP playint too slow, whining".

Most of the snapshots of the humans of Tucson are fleeting, like brief glimpses of strangers passing on the street. The transience of the stories may be distracting at times, but the whole collage ultimately beams with the messy sacredness of being human, making Demigods on Speedway a compelling read.

Quench Your Thirst with Salt, by Nicole Walker

Quench Your Thirst with Salt, by Nicole Walker, reviewed by Emma Canning

It's a collection of essays by Walker, a creative writing professor at Northern Arizona University. The stories connect Walker's personal history with the environmental history of the Southwest. Throughout the book, the natural forces of drought and extinction rival the personal forces of sexuality and motherhood.

With expert craft and tireless research, Walker shapes fine layers of ecology, hydrology, history and autobiography into a beautifully written strata.

She traces the relationships between humans and the land. The essays create a deeply personal and intricate web, which mirrors nature's own complexity.

This is the magic of Quench Your Thirst with Salt. Everything is connected, so much so that images and ideas shift into one another. We are calcified into grains of sand; our families are ecosystems.

What nature does with sediment, Walker does with metaphor: presses it into something confounding and wonderful.