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New England Literary News

Loneliness and longing in Tommi Parrish’s graphic novel, timely poetry from Jill McDonough, and a new bookstore in Dorchester

Tommi Parrish's new graphic novel is an examination of longing and connection.Image by Tommi Parrish, courtesy of Fantagraphics

‘Men I Trust’

In Massachusetts-based artist and author Tommi Parrish’s evocative new graphic novel, “Men I Trust” (Fantagraphics), Eliza is trying hard to be a good single mom to her 5-year-old, continue her sobriety, and further her career as a poet; Sasha, in her late twenties, is flailing as she finds her way in the world, living with her parents, making money now and then as a sex worker. They develop a friendship, its boundaries are tested, and Parrish deftly reveals the challenges of intimacy, of what it is to long and ache for someone or something, and not quite be sure what it is you want, or who, or why. Eliza describes a book project she’s working on, “about romanticizing what we can’t have. And how, when our desires are realized, the reality rarely matches what we had imagined.” Parrish’s cityscapes bespeak loneliness, and the figures have both heft, a fleshed muscularity, and a suggested gracelessness, embodying the experience of what it is to take up too much space. The book is a sensitive and layered examination of desire and connection, the ways we fail ourselves and each other, and what it means to keep trying anyway.

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A heart-felt poetry collection

Jill McDonough is a big-hearted poet. One gets the sense she likes to laugh and likes to eat and likes for the people around her to feel good, which is to say, one gets the sense she likes being alive and wants others to have the same chance to feel that, too. The poems in her new collection, “American Treasure” (Alice James) exude this generosity of heart, this humor, this warmth, and, at the same time, an awareness of the tragedy of this moment in this country, “every Katrina / and Covid a fresh chance for us / to show ourselves exactly who we are.” She talks with her students in jail about freedom, and how the people who fetishize it don’t really mean it, that it’s a way of saying “LOOK OVER HERE, AWAY FROM ALL THE SLAVERY / WE DID, AWAY FROM ALL THE JAIL!” And what’s freedom to those students? “No fear of loss, no fear of hunger, no fear of pain.” McDonough is aware of her luck and her privilege, and she’s humble enough to admit her limits and her wrongness. The poems address slavery, the pandemic, racism, guns, the poisons we are so intoxicated with, and the pleasures, too, the quotidian joys like ordering at the deli counter and talking about how thick or thin to slice the meat. “Some days Boston is just a bunch / of women calling out to each other I LOVE YOUR DRESS!” There’s gentleness in these poems, and jokes and joy, and they are, also, so frank, so serious, and so grave.

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Fields Corner bookstore

Boston Poet Laureate Porsha Olayiwola and former executive director of Haley House Bing Broderick have teamed up to open a new bookstore in Fields Corner in Dorchester. Scheduled to open next fall, The Book Shop— its current working name — will be part of a new five-story building in the neighborhood, and has been financed by more than 80 community investors offering nearly $150,000. Neighborhood residents selected The Book Shop from two finalists for what should appear in the 1,300-foot retail space; the community wanted a space that would be open in the evening that wasn’t a bar or restaurant. The Book Shop will focus on events and clubs and other programming, particularly in the evening hours. “As residents of Dorchester, we look forward to opening our doors and providing a space for hospitality, creativity, collaboration, and possibility,” Olayiwola and Broderick said in a statement. The building, at 1463 Dorchester Ave., will include 29 affordable housing units.

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Coming out

“The Complete Translations” by Seamus Heaney, edited by Marco Sonzogni (FSG)

“She and Her Cat” by Makoto Shinkai and Naruki Nagakawa, translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori (Atria)

“Butts: A Backstory” by Heather Radke (Avid Reader)

Pick of the week

Josh Cook at Porter Square Books in Cambridge recommends “The English Understand Wool” by Helen DeWitt (New Directions): “What a strange delight! DeWitt is an absolute genius and this story of a brilliant young woman discovering she was raised by criminals (and then leaning into that discovery) is a great introduction to DeWitt’s work. Throw in a delectable anti-authoritarian streak and you have a fun and intelligent single-sitting read.”