Short Takes



By David Poston. N.C. Writers Network. 23 pages. $10. ****

This mouthful of a title by Gastonia's David Poston is winner of the 2007 Randall Jarrell/Harperprints Poetry Chapbook Competition from the N.C. Writers Network. And a deserving winner it is.

It seems as if Poston, who teaches at the Highland School of Technology, has stored up an entire life's worth of poetic fuel to funnel into these engaging poems.

Poston has a knack for sniffing out life's funky crevices (“… we rolled through / a gray drip of a day into the backside / of a town garnished in cigarette butts / and a crust of broken glass …”) and for allowing humor to creep in ( Dawn's pink spill spreads up the eastern sky,/ which leaves me nineteen lines away / from that World of Poetry Prize.”) Praise him, too, for insight, risk, brisk images (“… as the first dimes of rain peck the hissing asphalt.”) and something no poet can manufacture: imagination and energy. DANNYE ROMINE POWELL, FOR THE OBSERVER



By Curtis Sittenfeld. Random House. 558 pages. $26.

Would we be interested in reading Curtis Sittenfeld's new novel, “American Wife,” if it weren't obvious that the narrator, Alice Blackwell, is modeled on the first lady, Laura Bush? Would the story of Alice and her husband, Charlie, who becomes president of the United States and presides over a disastrous war in the Middle East, hold our attention if it weren't for salacious headlines about the novel, like “Racy Tales of a Fictional First Lady Cause Red Faces in the Real-Life White House”?

“American Wife,” however, isn't political satire; rather it attempts to give us an emotionally detailed portrait of a woman and her marriage to a politician. And while the final chapters dealing with the Blackwell presidency are badly undermined by Sittenfeld's obvious contempt for Charlie's politics (and her inability to understand how Alice could possibly share her husband's views), this novel succeeds in creating a memorable and sympathetic heroine.

Sittenfeld has changed just enough details to avoid accusations that she has completely plagiarized Laura Bush's curriculum vitae. Alice and Charlie hail from Wisconsin, not Texas. Charlie's famous father was governor of Wisconsin, not president of the United States. His family's business is meat, not oil. And he went to Princeton, not Yale.

Otherwise the Blackwells' story hews remarkably closely to that of the Bushes. And Charlie Blackwell is in many ways a carbon copy of George W. Bush. MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NEW YORK TIMES