BOOK REVIEW: JoAnn Stevelos’ “Dream Alibis”

July 5th, 2017, 4:00 pm by Sara

Review by Sara Ayers

Children learn the history of their families through stories, told over and over: “That’s how your parents met.” “That’s how we lost the house.” “That’s why I left your dad.” But as time passes and the child grows up, the stories inevitably become more nuanced, as the child detective gains both more details and and better insight into human motives. Perspectives shift and actions acquire more gradations. JoAnn Stevelos’ new book Dream Alibis delves into this phenomenon in a subtle journey that explores the bonds that both unite and divide families.

In the prologue, she lays out her themes – dreams as an alternative to reality and alibis as a skirting of guilt – and then launches into 13 short poems, illustrated by Ryder Cooley’s plaintive drawings, that fearlessly examine tiny junctures of grief and self-deception, now viewed from a wiser, more mature distance. Stevelos has a knack for distilling these crystalline moments of loss, sometimes surreal, sometimes achingly straight forward.

“Walk Along the Edges” is a dream-like telling of a pregnancy and birth, complete with squabbling siblings, a shirking lover and red pine trees as a supporting character. In “Bells,” a breezy account of a rainy day spent looking at old photographs abruptly comes to a rueful conclusion:

…our two grins as wide
as wide as the bells ringing inside me
whenever you come near

Bells ringing so loud
that I will never believe
you can’t hear them too.

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