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 V.22 No.34 | August 22 - 28, 2013 

Book Review

Hiking Literary Hinterlands with Rennie Sparks


Rennie Sparks
Handsome Family Music

Don't get me wrong: I dig the Handsome Family, but my true fandom rests with author Rennie Sparks. Her lyrics and essays walk the fine line between extemporaneous storytelling and preternatural, elegant deconstruction. Wilderness, her latest book, explores the human condition by employing Aesopian schematics; call them existential fables or zoological philosophy. Each of these 17 essays is themed on an animal or insect, and every featured creature is accompanied by one of Sparks' tablet illustrations.

In my imagination, Sparks sits at a bloodwood spinning wheel, weaving personal animus and entomological, historical and cultural facts with folk tales, myth and eldritch events. Her dark forest is populated by ghosts: Blind Willie Johnson in “The Salamander,” George Armstrong Custer in “The Caterpillar,” Albrecht Dürer in “The Turtle” and Stephen Foster in “The Wildebeest.” Extant but hauntological specters also dwell there—Charles Manson and Tex Watson in “The Cockroach,” the Mexican gray in “The Wolf,” the Sibyl in “The Caterpillar” and Shiva in “The Jellyfish”—and she seamlessly incorporates surrealist inspiration and waking-life research into an outstanding collection of short essays. Her writing inhabits the soul of the crocodile, prairie dog and ant as much as it does its curious human creator.

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Wilderness' precise, epigrammatic charm is undeniable. Being clever or cerebral is one thing—and Sparks clearly is—but there's outstanding perception in her empathic storytelling, capacity for epiphany and metaphorical dexterity. Rennie Sparks appears along with Handsome Family partner and husband Brett Sparks at Bookworks (4022 Rio Grande NW) on Wednesday, Aug. 21. One hopes the tie-in between the book and album will bring these essays to a new audience; ever after, their minds will house the clickety-clacking divinations of this important Southwestern writer.

For the economy-minded lit lover, Wilderness is available in black-and-white paperback form for $13 from; you can even request that Sparks signs it for no additional charge. The glorious full-color edition of Wilderness can only be acquired as part of The Handsome Family's deluxe box set, along with the Wilderness album on vinyl (plus a download code), a six-postcard set and an 11”x17” poster.

Rennie Sparks reads from Wilderness
with music by The Handsome Family

Wednesday, Aug. 21, 7pm

4022 Rio Grande Blvd NW

Free, all-ages
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Today's Events

Thunder Boy Jr. at Bookworks

Sherman Alexie
Lee Towndrow

Author Sherman Alexie talks about his new children's picture book, a story about a boy who must find his own identity despite being named after his father. Book signing follows the talk.

The Drunken City at Cell Theatre

DoƱana, Four Seasons at National Hispanic Cultural Center

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