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Channeling Mark Twain

by

Channeling Mark Twain Cover

 

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

Fresh out of graduate school, Holly Mattox is a young, newly married, and spirited poet who moves to New York City from Minnesota in the early 1970's. Hoping to share her passion for words and social justice, Holly is also determined to contribute to the politically charged atmosphere around her. Her mission: to successfully teach a poetry workshop at the Women's House of Detention on Rikers Island, only minutes from Manhattan.

Having listened to her mother recite verse by heart all her life, Holly has always been drawn to poetry. Yet until she stands before a class made up of prisoners and detainees — all troubled women charged with a variety of crimes — even Holly does not know the full power that language can possess. Words are the only weapon left to many of these outspoken women: the hooker known as Baby Ain't (as in "Baby Ain't Nobody Better!"); Gene/Jean, who is mid-sex change; drug mule Never Delgado; and Akilah Malik, a leader of the Black Freedom Front.

One woman in particular will change Holly's life forever: Polly Lyle Clement, an inmate awaiting transfer to a mental hospital upstate, one day announces that she is a descendant of Mark Twain and is capable of channeling his voice. And so begins Holly's descent into the dark recesses of the criminal justice system, where in an attempt to understand and help her students she will lose her perspective on the nature of justice — and risk ruining everything stable in her life. As Holly begins an affair with a fellow poet — who claims to know her better than she knows herself — she finds herself adrift between two ends of the social and political spectrum, between two men and two identities.

National Book Award finalist Carol Muske-Dukes has created an explosive, mesmerizing novel exploring the worlds of poetry, sex, and politics in the unforgettable New York City of the seventies. Written with her trademark captivating language and emotional intuition, Channeling Mark Twain is Muske-Dukes's most powerful work to date.

Review:

"Occupying a seat on a Riker's Island — bound bus crowded with menacing, diamond-studded pimps is just another day in the life of Holly Mattox, the self-consciously attractive newlywed protagonist of Muske-Dukes's fourth novel. Set in 1970s New York City, the novel follows Holly as she becomes increasingly, and perhaps dangerously, involved with the female inmates who attend her jailhouse poetry workshops. Undeterred by the catty disapproval of her literary contemporaries, Holly forges on, leading a class of bickering inmates, including mentally disturbed Billie Dee, transgendered Gene/Jean, God-fearing Darlene and fragile, heavily sedated Polly Lyle Clement, who claims to be the great-granddaughter of Mark Twain. (Twain also, Polly claims, speaks through her.) An affair with fellow scribe Sam Glass threatens Holly's young marriage as Polly gets thrown into solitary for her possible involvement in another inmate's jailbreak. The jail administration wants Holly to extract information from a delusional Polly, but Polly could be crumbling too fast for Holly to save her. Prisoners' poems appear throughout and afford a sometimes hilarious, sometimes stark look beneath the inmates' grizzled exteriors. Fiction with a political conscience often sacrifices craft in favor of driving home a message, but Muske-Dukes pulls it off. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Review:

"Most New Yorkers think of Rikers Island, if they think of it at all, as they are going to or from LaGuardia Airport. The small island sits in the East River, between Queens and the Bronx, and it houses New York City's largest jail. There are usually around 15,000 inmates there. A person who isn't incarcerated at Rikers can see it well from the highway overpasses that link the metropolis with the nearby... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"[An] offbeat and stimulating story, marked by painterly images evoked through precise, energetic language." Library Journal

Review:

"Muske-Dukes triumph lies in building a discourse on the nature of language....Lovely, original writing on the unlikely romance between prisoners and poetry." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"[A] slim volume grappling with big issues." Los Angeles Times

Review:

"Muske-Dukes takes vast chances with both her voice and her subject matter, and ends up with a work strongly based on reality, but unquestionably elevated into the wondrous realm of art." San Francisco Chronicle

Review:

"[A] three-dimensional narrative that captures the fear, grit, danger, courage and triumph of Holly's quest with astonishing fullness." Chicago Sun-Times

About the Author

Carol Muske-Dukes is professor and founder of the graduate program in literature and creative writing at the University of Southern California and also teaches at Columbia University. She is the author of three novels, including Life After Death, and seven poetry collections, including Sparrow, a National Book Award finalist, and An Octave Above Thunder, nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Her collection of essays on Hollywood, Married to the Icepick Killer, was named a Best Book of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle. Muske-Dukes is the recipient of many awards, among them a Guggenheim fellowship. A former poetry columnist for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, she has reviewed and written extensively for The New York Times. Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Muske-Dukes lives in New York City and Los Angeles.

Product Details

ISBN:
9780375509278
Subtitle:
A Novel
Author:
Muske-Dukes, Carol
Publisher:
Random House
Subject:
General
Subject:
New york (n.y.)
Subject:
Nineteen seventies
Subject:
Women prisoners
Subject:
Bildungsromans
Subject:
General Fiction
Publication Date:
20070703
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
1 MAP
Pages:
288
Dimensions:
8.5 x 5.75 x .98 in .88 lb

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

Channeling Mark Twain Used Hardcover
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$9.95 In Stock
Product details 288 pages Random House - English 9780375509278 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Occupying a seat on a Riker's Island — bound bus crowded with menacing, diamond-studded pimps is just another day in the life of Holly Mattox, the self-consciously attractive newlywed protagonist of Muske-Dukes's fourth novel. Set in 1970s New York City, the novel follows Holly as she becomes increasingly, and perhaps dangerously, involved with the female inmates who attend her jailhouse poetry workshops. Undeterred by the catty disapproval of her literary contemporaries, Holly forges on, leading a class of bickering inmates, including mentally disturbed Billie Dee, transgendered Gene/Jean, God-fearing Darlene and fragile, heavily sedated Polly Lyle Clement, who claims to be the great-granddaughter of Mark Twain. (Twain also, Polly claims, speaks through her.) An affair with fellow scribe Sam Glass threatens Holly's young marriage as Polly gets thrown into solitary for her possible involvement in another inmate's jailbreak. The jail administration wants Holly to extract information from a delusional Polly, but Polly could be crumbling too fast for Holly to save her. Prisoners' poems appear throughout and afford a sometimes hilarious, sometimes stark look beneath the inmates' grizzled exteriors. Fiction with a political conscience often sacrifices craft in favor of driving home a message, but Muske-Dukes pulls it off. (July)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[An] offbeat and stimulating story, marked by painterly images evoked through precise, energetic language."
"Review" by , "Muske-Dukes triumph lies in building a discourse on the nature of language....Lovely, original writing on the unlikely romance between prisoners and poetry."
"Review" by , "[A] slim volume grappling with big issues."
"Review" by , "Muske-Dukes takes vast chances with both her voice and her subject matter, and ends up with a work strongly based on reality, but unquestionably elevated into the wondrous realm of art."
"Review" by , "[A] three-dimensional narrative that captures the fear, grit, danger, courage and triumph of Holly's quest with astonishing fullness."
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