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Jiles is no sentimentalist. Bears tear people apart. Horses panic, bite and wedge riders between cypresses. Yet no novelist since Donald Harington has so vibrantly evoked the wilderness of the Ozarks. She knows every tree, vine and wildflower, every creature on wing, hoof or padded claw, and on her trek home, Adair spots them aU. Jiles delights in schooling us with Ozark Civil War knowledge and folkways . And she teUs mighty good history. Her prologue, a briefing on the war before the novel's 1864 start, could hold its own with any chunk of James McPherson or Albert Castel. Reviewers have compared this book to Cold Mountain. In the end, Enemy Women is the more satisfying book. Jiles indulges no one. Ozarkers, even Adair, can be as mean, narrow, spiteful, bigoted and hateful as the times warrant. Heroes win no great rewards. Sometimes ladies steal to survive. Enemy Women is on many levels more the real thing than its predecessor. This is a literary novel with historical intentions. In the lonely Ozark hills and hollows, among soldiers' and sisters' graves marked by blank stones, the wind must be sighing. Jiles has told the world one of the region's great stories. (SY) The Finger Bone by Kevin Prüfer Carnegie MeUon University Press, 2002, 82 pp., $12.95 (paper) The Finger Bone is Kevin Prüfer's second book, and it expands on a number of themes and subjects— astronomy, angels, war, death—that he explored in Strange Wood, his first book. The reader finds specific references to finger bones in two poems, "Ars Poetica" and "Neanderthal," and they point to the thematic heart of the book. In the latter poem, the finger bone is good enough for the brother who excavates it out of the ground; it'sgoodenough, aU that marks a life lived, rediscovered, dusted off, puzzled over but of no greater consequence than that. In the closing stanza of the poem, the brother is asked if the bones are good enough to plant, and what color flower will bloom from them. What the reader finds in this poem, and the others in this book, is not a lack of ambition but a willingness to observe, to witness the flow of history rather than attempt to transform it. Out of the dust a bone is plucked—and it is good enough. There is little plumbing the depths of nostalgia, even in the many poems on death that dominate the fourth section of the book. These poems instead choose to explore the mutability of experience. In "Ars Poetica" Prüfer writes about "the bone in the ice cream." What an odd find: not something dug out of the ground that is half expected, as in "Neanderthal." The contrast is stark: "When it melts, the ice cream is a thrill of rivulets,/is a sweet, pooling thing/but the bone is blade-like/at the edges." When the poetic flourish melts away we are left with the hard image of a finger bone. It's "the gruesome truth . . ./[the] flute that sings the sweetness away." Poetry is not a place of refuge for Prüfer or his readers . The Finger Bone is filled with poems that overturn our expectations in ways that are not so much ironic as they are reversals of logic. Instead of The Missouri Review · 205 untroubled, bucolic vistas, "Pastoral" offers the reader a "season of wasps," "season of the divided-in-parts." Refuge and wholeness are denied us. Here is a pastoral landscape populated with what stings and crawls, where fecundity is a threat. As Prüfer writes in "Report for the Lovelorn," "all of us [are] living on the shivering surface of a black wing." With rich verbal surprises, as in "hissing like the committed/at the bottom of their tires" or "Dusk falls like God's own black breath" or "streetlights winked like drops at the tips of a hundred syringes," this book more than satisfies. If the reader seeks poems that challenge, that refuse to turn away from what is harsh and brutal, filled with shivering, shimmering images that transcend the dialectic of beauty and truth, then The Finger Bone is a must...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 205-206
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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