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Of Song and Water: A Novel by Joseph Coulson

Great Lakes Blues

A review by Donna Seaman

In the American Midwest, the presumptive pastoral calm and social conformity associated with the term is more myth than reality. Heartland weather is capricious and extreme. Temperatures abruptly shift, clouds boil up against clear skies, thuggish winds wreak havoc, storms rampage. And this meteorological drama is often matched by human turmoil, ensuring that the Heartland is a place registering harrowing confrontations and abrupt disorder.

Born in Detroit, Joseph Coulson is closely attuned to the region's gently rolling land and chimerical sky, as well as its majestic Great Lakes. He also knows a thing or two about the cadences of an urban core ravaged by the divisions of race and class. A poet and playwright as well as a novelist, Coulson is a meticulous stylist who manages to align the tumultuous inner world of his characters with the sensuous outer world. The Vanishing Moon (2004), Coulson's much praised debut novel, followed the lives of a midwestern family coping with...

Previously Reviewed by The Common Review
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Ten Days in the Hills: A Novel by Jane Smiley

Being a gifted writer means never having to say you're sorry -- at least when it comes to borrowing. Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Thousand Acres (1991), employed Shakespeare's King Lear as narrative scaffold for her tale of an Iowa farmer and his three daughters. In Moo (1995...

The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children by E. D., Jr. Hirsch

An educational experiment in 1989 pitted a group of students with high reading scores, selected especially for their lack of interest in baseball, against a group of low-scoring students who happened to be avid baseball fans. The two groups were asked to demonstrate their reading comprehension of a ...

Whiteman: A Novel by Tony D'Souza

Drawing on his own experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa's Ivory Coast, Tony D'Souza has assembled a likeable fish-out-of-water tale, generously peppered with parable. The eponymous Whiteman is Jack Diaz, a twenty-something aid worker who travels to the Worodougou village of Tégéso to...

Visigoth by Gary Amdahl

In one of the best stories in Gary Amdahl's debut collection, winner of the 2006 Milkweed National Fiction Prize, a left-leaning Minnesota political organizer reflects on the true motivation for his activism, about which he has begun to feel a gnawing sense of futility: The truth was that the...

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