"The Flame" by Leonard Cohen is a gathering of late work by the poet, singer, and chronicler of life’s more difficult moments.
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016) wrote hundreds of songs, all of which began as poems, as well as the novel "Beautiful Losers" (1966). If his fame dropped nearly to the point of disappearance in the 1980s, it was no accident: He withdrew from the world to become a Zen monk, and he remained so even during the years when, bilked by a manager, he returned to the stage to sing his way back to solvency. This gathering of poems, lyrics from his last four albums, sketches, and notebook jottings is emphatically for the Cohen completist, who will be fascinated by the process of how those random notes morphed into poems and then into such memorable songs as “You Want It Darker”: “A million candles burning / For the love that never came / You want it darker / We kill the flame.” In some instances, Cohen reiterates a Jewish piety that never quite left him; in others, as his editor's note, he works themes and symbols that remained present in his work throughout his career, notably the fire that gives this volume its name. The volume, peppered with sketches and notes in the author’s distinctive hand, closes with a speech given on the occasion of receiving a prize from the Spanish government, in which he connects his work to that nation by means of his early devotion to flamenco guitar and in which he protests that the award may be misplaced to some extent, since “poetry comes from a place that no one commands and no one conquers. … In other words, if I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often." That he managed to find that place so often, though, is abundantly clear in these pages.
Cohen’s fans will be delighted, and students of poetic and lyrical composition have much to learn here as well.
Masterful and eerie short stories
Adrianne Harun's "Catch, Release" is a gorgeously eerie collection that exposes elements of strange unreality lurking within the ordinary.
The lives of those near the fringes of society take center stage as Harun slowly untangles the secrets that lie within them. From hospital rooms to remote islands full of oddball residents, the settings are at once recognizable and inverted by a sense of foreboding that metastasizes and shifts. In "The Farmhouse Wife," a cash-strapped couple gratefully take up residence in an abandoned home offered to them for low rent by an eccentric farmer, but a dissonant presence in their midst soon makes itself known, progressively eroding the couple’s sense of security in the house and relationship. The heartbreaking "Madame Ida" depicts an isolated elderly woman who receives anonymous sketches of her emotionally distant son in the mail; while "The New Arrival," which tracks an immigrant traveling illegally to the United States to bestow a potentially lifesaving gift on his cousin’s family, hums with precariousness and promise. And the collection’s title story, which features a 13-year-old girl reeling from her father’s death — and her mother’s agonized fixation on the idea that he might, against the odds, be alive on a remote island of his boyhood — offers a creeping meditation on loss, greed and vengeance. Only the more metaphysical, slightly overworked "Temptation of the Tutelary," which features sort-of guardian angels whose charges have aged, strikes a dissonant note, though it doesn’t detract from the collection’s overall impact. Animated by a fierce sense of longing, Harun’s pieces expertly depict how individuals grapple with lost love, death and uncertain futures. Each story exists within a carefully realized world — lit with detail like brilliant, bizarre snow globes — and, fueled by haunting prose, will remain gleaming in readers’ minds.
This collection is masterful and varied.