new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

An awakened history, a father/son trip, and a poet who swears

Rob Cocuzzo and his father stop for a break during their
Rob Cocuzzo and his father stop for a break during their Rob Cocuzzo

The past is present

Australian novelist Kim Scott was the first writer of Indigenous Australian ancestry to win the prestigious Miles Franklin Award for his second novel “Benang,” a prize he won again for his fourth book, “That Deadman Dance.” Widely lauded in Australia, Scott’s work hasn’t yet penetrated the market in the US, but this week, the boundary-pushing Western Mass-based Small Beer Press is publishing the North American edition of his latest award-winning novel Taboo.” In this potent, ghostly book, Scott, part of the Noongar people of Western Australia, tells what happens when a group of Noongar return to the site of a massacre which followed the killing of a white man for kidnapping a black woman. The book wrestles with the haunt of history, and poetry lives on each page. “Now his own house was haunted, and he was glad.” In the taboo farmland, the group reckon with language and connection, and what reconciling with the past means for the present. They face the way the history and its sins live on, and how rebirth demands destruction. “Death is only one part of a story that is forever beginning,” Scott writes. On a brief US tour, Scott will read and discuss “Taboo” on Friday at 7 p.m. at White Square Books in Easthampton.



The sense, completing Jill McDonough’s fifth collection of poetry Here All Night (Alice James), out this week, is that of walking home after an evening at the bar with the best sort of conversationalist and companion: bawdy, excitable, insightful, tender and funny, attuned to complexity, alert to money and mess, and optimistic in the midst of it all. Her poems mix the matter-of-fact (“We are all going to die still falling / for crap about berries”) with luminous detail (“the pioneer scent of fresh baked bread”), and moments of earthy, transcendent beauty (“Laughing like this / at a table like this—dappled summer shade, tall / cherry trees — is all I ever wanted when I didn’t know / what one could want.” McDonough, who teaches at the MFA program at UMass Boston, is a poet who swears; she’s a poet who doesn’t take herself too seriously; she’s a poet who moves between the rough-edged, throaty way we speak, and who elevates the language so that we’re more awake to the beauty, absurdity, and possibility in this world — and our short time in it.


Going the distance

InThe Road To San Donato: Fathers, Sons, and Cycling Across Italy (Mountaineers), out this week, the Boston-based writer and journalist Rob Cocuzzo tells the story of a cycling trip he took with his 64-year old father in 2017 down 500 miles of the shin of the boot of Italy, from Florence to the village of San Donato, where the Cocuzzo family came from. Cocuzzo introduces us to his father — a tattooed, long-haired, stubborn, routine-devoted vegetarian hair salon owner who rides a fixed gear along Mass Ave to work and has been hit by cars 16 times. The two embark on the trip during a time of transitions: Cocuzzo’s larger-than-life grandfather is ailing, his father is thinking about retirement, and Cocuzzo is considering the end of bachelorhood and restless adventure and proposing to his longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend, Jenny Johnson of NESN’s “Dining Playbook.” The book, lovingly told and tightly paced, charts their journey, the mishaps, strains, triumphs, giving sense of a place, a history, a series of fathers, and the spinning wheel of time that binds them together. Cocuzzo will read and discuss the book on Tuesdayat 7 p.m. at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.


Coming Out

When Death Takes Something from You Give It Back by Naja Marie Aidt, translated from the Danish by Denise Newman (Coffee House)

A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib (Tin House)

The Sweetest Fruits by Monique Truong (Viking)

Pick of the Week

Spencer Ruchti at the Harvard Bookstore recommends “The Word for Woman Is Wilderness” by Abi Andrews (Two Dollar Radio) : “Maybe 'novel' isn't the best word — perhaps a globetrotting, Thoreauvian whodunit? A bricolage of literary, feminist, and anthropological thought, gazing out the throat of the anthropocene? I've roamed this earth for a few decades and never found anyone who writes or thinks like Abi Andrews. Don't anticipate this book. Fear it. Love it.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at nmaclaughlin@gmail.com.