Having Witnessed The Illusion by Nicole Greaves

Review by Amy Small McKinney

In Nicole Greaves’ book, Having Witnesses The Illusion, the first poem, “Prelude” from Section I. Another Country invites us into her world of deep imagery and lyricism joined with storytelling. Though you know nothing about this world and the person she is addressing yet, you learn quickly that the search for others, connection in the midst of disconnection, and the desire to be both part of and out of this world is a central theme. In this introductory poem, Greaves begins with a girl’s love of horses:

There was a year when you thought of nothing

but horses, from wild mustangs to thoroughbreds,


And then, the first mention of language, how it is both “arrow” and forgiveness:

For a year you felt too massive to stay,

too wounded to move forward. You listened for bells,


for the precision in a sentence that held the shape of an arrow,

one that knew how to find the heart


Until finally, the possibility of connection:


It was then you began to realize that there might be others

who thought they could become horses too, and you called to them (1).

Throughout this book, Greaves also alludes to dark and light, hidden and revealed. In “Conventicle,” there is “Moonlight, the crack of stone / inside a hidden doorway” and “no men // for miles, only us, here / in this country between countries, // in this light of refuge” (2).


In “Sacks of Scarabs, Greaves continues this theme of dark and light, foreign and hopeful belonging as she and her mother held hands through the museum:


The museum’s glass box was hidden from light

            in between the hopeful columns, the scarabs swarming in a pool

            of fabric. Somehow they made the presence of my mother’s body

            more familiar, in the way her shadow made it more foreign (3).


This sense of foreignness linked arm and arm with togetherness continues throughout the book

in many disguises, including and especially, the power of language. For example, in the poem, “Mine,” Greaves writes, “Through the keyhole of my ear / where I was locked in / to what my mother and tía / were saying, the disagreement / of their silhouettes / in their first language, / language of sails and conquest, / where azul is closer / to the blue in fire, / hija closer / to the thread in daughter, / and mía closer to mine” (4).


Greaves often weaves Spanish into English, including when her beloved mother tries out idioms in English, saying: “Don’t look a dark horse in the mouth”(5). As a child, a teacher scolded Greaves for rolling her r’s too much, an allusion to her mother tongue. Greaves uses language to highlight lack of language, words like “stutter” and “the anticipation of sound.” And she returns to the horse frequently, whether in lines from “Caning”: “When he tightened the strands he leaned // back as if pulling on reins, the horse / the night before him when silence / magnifies the anticipation of sound” (13). And to the sense of being different—an outsider listening in, an outsider wondering: Will I always be the sum / of my poverty? (11)


Section II. The Waiting Room, confronts other ruptures, the loss of the beloved dying mother as well as the author’s own miscarriage where, after watching a child and father at a playground, she says during her own winter, “this is the sugar the body craves.”  (41)


In this section focused on grief, the title poem, “Having Witnessed The Illusion” is written in tercets, emblematic of mother, daughter, and death waiting in the wings, and returns us to the same sense of struggling to see inside, through a peephole or listening from outside a door: “to reveal just enough to say there was more // in the way a knitted sweater is a series of portholes, / and the body, the ocean, the thing contained / in its projection, a ship in a bottle, a cancer in its cell, // or the waiting room itself. (29)


In “Moments In The Trees,” Greaves continues:


when the mind is years ago


            in the village that no longer is

            a village, thinking of that boy who no longer is


            a boy. Her brow furls like someone

            blowing into a reed


            to push music through, tightening

            the pitch into its eye, sharpening


            until the voice is gone. (45)


Greaves finds her way back to her mother,  through her mother’s words that become her own in Section III Reclaimed. In “Awakening To My Mother’s Voice From Beyond:” Maybe, hija, you should go to the / planetarium today and watch the universe / expanding (55).


Greaves moves her readers away from the peephole, away from the porthole, away from the small openings between herself and the world, including the mother’s world before America, and into something larger. Now there are doors and windows into the world, a house painted “cerulean blue / like the house in my mother’s story, // the one in her village, made of water,” and then: “In this house, my mother said, // there are no masculine or feminine words, / the spoons were always joyous // and women always safe.”  (“Mi Casa” 57)


And in “Sorting Through My Inheritance,” Greaves admits: “Sometimes there’s no translation. / A word so much a word that you can’t speak it. More taste. Filament.” and how “All through adolescence, I was always both awake and asleep. / You would ask me:¿Entiendes?/ Then quickly remembered English: Do you understand?/ “Entiendo, Mamá.” And finally, “After you are dead, I’m happiest becoming you.” (73)


And as a mother to her own children, Greaves, in “Epilogue,” while painting wooden boxes, tells her readers, “Then we went to the fields / to be with the horses, but we could only hear them. // The smallest muñeca said to me, / You can’t tell if they’re coming or going.” She answers: “No, my lovely little nut, I said, / they are one and the same.” (75)


By the end of the book, Greaves has brought us full circle, moving us from the experience of being different, to loss, and to finally finding what she has gained and who she has become. In struggling to understand her single mother’s immigrant experience, and her own shuttling between languages and profound sense of feeling like, and being viewed by others, as an outsider, we journey with Greaves as she, daughter, teacher, mother, and writer, moves closer to belonging. “In the last bench in Meeting I am / all the other women” (“Faith And Practice” 63).

Nicole Greaves’s poetry has appeared in numerous literary reviews––including SWWIM, Cleaver Magazine, Matter Poetry, American Poetry Review; Philly Edition, Radar Poetry––and was awarded prizes by The Academy of American Poets and the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia. She was a finalist for the 2020 Frontier Digital Chapbook Contest and a 2015 finalist for the Coniston Prize of Radar Poetry, who also nominated her for The Best of the Net. She was selected by Gregory Orr as the 2003 Poet Laureate of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. 

Reviewer: Amy Small McKinney: Amy Small-McKinney is a Montgomery County PA Poet Laureate Emeritus (2011). Her second full-length book of poems, Walking Toward Cranes, won the Kithara Book Prize 2016 (Glass Lyre Press). Her chapbook, One Day I Am A Field, was written during COVID 2020 and her husband’s death (Glass Lyre Press, 2022). Her poems have been published in numerous journals, for example, American Poetry Review, The Indianapolis Review, The Inflectionist Review, Baltimore Review, Pedestal Magazine, SWWIM, Persimmon Tree, ONE ART, and The Banyan Review, and she has contributed to several anthologies, including Rumors, Secrets, & Lies: Poems about Pregnancy, Abortion, & Choice (Anhinga Press, 2022) and Stained: An anthology of writing about menstruation (Querencia Press, 2023), among others. Her poems have also been translated into Romanian and Korean. Her book reviews have appeared in journals, such as Prairie Schooner and Matter. She has an MFA in Poetry from Drew University and currently resides in Philadelphia.

Esprit de Corpse by EF Deal

Review by Anna Huber

Esprit de Corpse is a unique tale of adventure and mystery set in a french steampunk setting, largely separating the book from novels that traditionally place the steampunk universe in England or America. The novel makes use of different religion, socioeconomics, and even languages to both fill the book with depth and richness.

Esprit de Corpse begins with introducing the reader to the two protagonists of the book, Jacqueline and her sister Angélique. One may want to continue reading the book purely for fascinating characters. These two draw the reader into the story vivaciously, captivating readers with their quirks, flaws, and overall passionate personalities. Their story begins with a train ride and an automaton that literally falls into their path- a scene which both brings to light how skilled Jacqueline is with machinery, but also begs the first question, is this a story about ghosts in the machine?

From there, the mystery and intrigue continues to build as an unknown man breaks into Jacqueline’s workshop and attempts to steal back a component from the automaton. Though his plan is stopped by a quick thinking Angélique, there is more to this man’s plans and his motives than meets his eye, and before too long he becomes another intriguing character and suggestive love interest.

Then, in an attack, Angélique is kidnapped- or as luck would have it- secretly rescued. Jacqueline is then tasked with two difficult tasks- rescue her sister while trying to discover the mysteries of the automaton who brought the struggle and bad fortune to her and her sister. Joined by a lively and heroic Torque warrior, Jacqueline races to beat a mysterious Count whose ties to her family go further than even she realizes.

One of the masterful things accomplished by Esprit de Corpse is the commentary provided on traditional ideas about female autonomy and women’s possession of their own body. Trigger warning, the book does deal largely with themes of sexual assault and rape, offering a unique view and imagery of how it can effect both the body, the survivor, and family members of survivors. Note, the way this material is handled in the novel may be disturbing to some readers, but the ultimate message of how it can change a person is not to be overlooked. However uncomfortable the topic may be in the novel, it is worth noting that some may agree with the unorthodox and even uncomfortable opinions held by characters- opinions that some survivors may side with. The book also works to provide views of how many women working in predominantly male-led fields may feel in trying to forge paths of their own.

Ultimately though, the book does work to find coalition and common ground between good people- women and men alike- all fighting to stop a common evil and bring peace back to their home. By the end, families both unite and grow. Through pain, hardship, and bravery, the book does end with a fulfilling resolution- completed with even a few good and unpredictable twists. Unity is a word that captures the message of the book, as well as best conveys the real spirit behind Esprit de Corpse.

EF Deal lives in Haddonfield, NJ with her husband and two chow chows. Her work has been published in a variety of ezines and anthologies as well as in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. She is assistant fiction editor at Abyss&Apex and video editor for Strong Women ~ Strange Worlds.

Reviewer: Anna Huber: Anna Huber is a Graduate Student in the MA in English Literature Program at Monmouth University in New Jersey. Her love for literature began at a young age as her mother was (and still is) an English teacher who read to her often and imparted to her a love of stories. She plans to pursue a career in higher education and impart an understanding and greater respect for literature to future students.

Gala by Lynne Shapiro

Review by Susan Williams

The poetry collection Gala by Lynne Shapiro is a transcendent collection exploring in detail the intricacies and themes of art by using a few specific works pictured in the book to guide the reader through her experience. Akin to taking a slow walk through a gallery, the reader is pulled along by a thread as the collection circles around and back again, creating an image all its own using themes of discovery, recollection, and identity. Throughout each reading of this collection, readers will find themselves discovering something new and exciting, perhaps an image they had glazed over or a connection from one piece to another. This collection is beautifully unfolding onto itself into a larger and more complex work of art. Over the course of the collection, works tie and weave into one another creating a delicate and sophisticated braided structure that keeps the audience anticipating the next strand and wondering how its themes will further expand and saturate the collective themes of musing and art.

Shapiro uses physical pieces of art as framing devices for her poetry throughout the collection, often showing them in photographs to give the reader an image to ground themself in while they read, but it often is presented after the text, which seemingly gives the reader an option to read it in their own way, they can choose to look at the presented image and factor that into their reading experience or choose to form their own image based on the text alone. It is also important to note how Shapiro uses the page space, allowing for the text to have whatever space it needs in order to breathe and hold its full effect. It frames each of the paragraphs like a piece of artwork hanging on the white walls of gallery, much mirroring the subject matter of the collection itself and yields to just a slight disruption of the eye that keeps the audience guess and looking for more. Throughout the work, you can take note of how Shapiro sees art and the reverence with which the admires different pieces, and yet also see glimpses into her wit as she includes asides throughout the collection as cheeky jokes between her and the audience themselves.

Throughout the book I found several lines to be irreverent and particularly hard-hitting. In “The Gala Apple” the audience is given two simple lines, “Is the original sin the desire for originality? – Is it the immortality that we’re after?” It is this two lines I find will resonate in the hearts of all people who desire to create or consume art in any medium, as all art stems in at least some capacity from originality. There is this ongoing idea of the apple and sin throughout the collection, which ties back not only into christian mythology but is connected to so many other mythological beings in the collection as it clings tightly to the themes of temptation.

I would greatly recommend “Gala” by Lynne Shapiro to everyone I know who has appreciated art in their life time. For both poetry aficionados and to those who are rather unfamiliar with the genre, this collection is an excellent read to get you thinking about the nature of art and how it is created, not to mention what it all means on both a worldly and personal scale. “Gala” highlights the importance of the consumption of art in our everyday lives and how doing such can build connections and widen our view to a perspective beyond our own sometimes narrowed views of the world.

Lynne Shapiro is a poet and essayist living in Hoboken New Jersey.  Originally from Ozone Park, Queens, Lynne moved to Culver City, California when she was a pre-teen. She studied Comparative Literature at San Diego State and Brandeis University, where she earned an MA.  After graduate school, she moved to New York City to work at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publishing company.  For over a decade she worked at the Whitney Museum of American Art and was a member of the faculty at Parsons/The New School in New York and at Hudson County Community College in New Jersey.  Culture and nature intertwine in her work to reveal a desire for wildness, magic, rootedness and authenticity.

Reviewer: Susan Williams is a graduate of Susquehanna University and writes fiction.

Beyond Repair by J.C. Todd

Beyond Repair
by J.C. Todd
Review by Courtney Bambrick

Beyond Repair presents a solemn, resigned perspective of war and its inevitable, irrevocable toll on civilians, combatants, and their communities. The collection opens with “In Whom the Dying Does Not End,” in which a parent recalls the development of her child’s body inside of her. This intense awareness of the work of creating a body – the prolonged and exact process of gestation – follows through the book as a counter-perspective to the awareness of the body’s vulnerability to violence and how witnessing such violence can affect the brain. The speaker in “In Whom…” contextualizes her daughter’s gestation within her own awareness of an insurgency in Hama, Syria. Throughout this collection, that balance between human creation and destruction reinforces the shared humanity of us and them in any conflict, across any border, but maintains that geography, history, power, and imperialism have made some bodies more vulnerable than others.

As it establishes expectations about pregnancy and motherhood, “In Whom the Dying Does Not End” offers a lens to see the effects of war on parents, children, and the bond between parents and children. Other poems such as “Cover Shot” (13) and “Night Ride, ar Raqqah” (17), pick up the theme of caring for children or carrying a pregnancy through tragedy. These poems seem to attempt to balance threat and promise. By referring to the space inhabited by her daughter as the “province of my body” (4), this foundational idea of pregnancy and development becomes complicated with the idea of nations and political powers within them. The speaker of “In Whom…” is “consumed by what I feed,” reflecting the parasitic nature of imperialism. The poem’s depiction of violence in Hama is countered by the daughter’s development: “a riot of cells / firing between [hips]” (3). Different “provinces” support or suppress different revolutions. The poem “Flashback to the Morning After” makes this parasitism even more explicit in depicting the flies in the wounds of a child: “…his decay / is the incubator / and holy food for clusters / of eggs” (44). Such a “contagion” is “alien / and intimate / as a just-conceived child.”

“My Parents’ Altruism” also repeats themes of “In Whom the Dying Does Not End” such as gestation and development of life set against a backdrop of war. The poem suggests an animal urge toward growth and survival and future. The repeated emphasis on the scientific and medical language serves to de-personalize the images and allows the poems to speak to universal human experiences. Todd writes, “Eight months before birth, / all the eggs I will bear into life / appear in me as seed” (51): not only is there birth emerging out of war, “the seedbed” where the speaker has “taken root,” but the potential for the next generations.

The landscape is another vulnerable body threatened by human violence. The former fecundity and abundance of “Peshawar  Lahore  Kashmir  Shalimar” are mourned in the poem, “The Silk Road and the Scythe.” Here, an orchard, provides an image of historical opulence and plenty “epic and sugary before it fell” by the work of “that ascetic—the scythe” (9); such destruction of orchards and farmland leads to the starvation of human bodies. Similarly, in the section “Earth” from the sequence “The Damages of Morning,” the planet itself says of its unruly inhabitants, “They cavort and die. I persist, / My motion not a quest for power / Or longevity” (75). The host can withstand cycles of destruction and regeneration to a degree we squabbling leeches, fleas, and flies cannot.

The title Beyond Repair comes from the military slang term FUBAR, an acronym meaning “fucked up beyond all repair.” Here, “FUBAR’d” is a sonnet sequence near the middle of the collection about an Air Force doctor who is coping with immense and relentless loss: of patients, community, resources, and of elements of herself. The sequence brilliantly uses the sonnet form to contain ideas and emotions that are too gruesome or too dangerous to share unfettered. The connections among the linking first and last lines of the sequence stitch together like sutures, holding together this doctor’s world, but just barely: “…In dreams, their skin gapes open / to wound her pain that has no analgesic” (31) shifts into “Too wound up and there’s no analgesic / strong enough to bring her down but uproar” (32). I think of the splint, tourniquet or the hasty stitches closing a wound enough to protect the patient for just a little longer. The subject of these poems considers how changed she is, how unrecognizable to those with whom she shares a life: “Best prepare him to live with her half-gone, / fucked up by damage beyond her control” (34).

Partway through the book, Todd’s geography becomes more familiar to American readers: in “Imagining Peace, August: 1945,” we see the speaker’s father and uncles “laze in Adirondack chairs” while drinking beer and singing “Mairzy Doats.” The poem presents a family’s exhalation after the end of war, and the ways that confrontations persist in peace: “We’re picking fights. Clam up / or else, the first idle threat of peacetime” (54). Poems in this section relate to the poet’s childhood and growing up and how life is shaped by WWII, Korea, Vietnam. Even in American backyards, insulated against so much of the terror experienced elsewhere, we feel reverberations. For many U.S. citizens living today, there are few periods of time untouched by American militarism; very few of us know no veterans or refugees of these and other wars. In “Reading the Dark in the Dark” (58) and “Reading with Students about Death Camps” (69), Todd illustrates the ways these stories of war are shared through writing and reading as well as through more personal and immediate connections.

War, militarism, and imperialism affect all of us – the relative immediacy of that danger may vary whether we are living in a region under siege, working in such a region, or growing up with someone who has witnessed such horror. Todd’s emphasis on the body allows us to consider all bodies regardless of political or ethnic identity. Removed from borders and beliefs, the physical body that demanded the sacrifice of parents’ strength, time, and safety is a body familiar to most of us. The human connection shared among parents and children across languages, regions, and cultures is matched by our shared vulnerability to violence. Todd knows that it is often easy to look away, but Beyond Repair presents layers upon layers of damage – a reader will almost certainly recognize a familiar reflection in at least one of these stories. Maybe the title is more a question than a declaration. How much suffering and how much cruelty will push us “beyond all repair/recognition/reason/redemption” (Notes 91).

J.C. Todd is the author of Beyond Repair, a special selection for the 2019 Able Muse Press Book Award. Other books of poetry are The Damages of Morning (Moonstone Press 2018), a 2019 Eric Hoffer Award finalist, What Space This Body (Wind 2008), the chapbooks Nightshade and Entering Pisces (Pine Press 1995, 1985), and collaborative artist books from Lucia Press, On Foot/By Hand and FUBAR, both in the collection of the Library and Research Center of the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Honors include the 2016 Rita Dove Poetry Prize and finalist designations for the Robert H. Winner (2015) and the Lucille Medwick (2006) awards of the Poetry Society of America. She has received fellowships from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and awards from the Leeway Foundation and the Latvian Cultural Capital Fund, and has been a fellow of the Bemis Center, Hambidge Center, Ragdale, Ucross, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts international artist exchange program, as well as a scholar at the Baltic Center for Writers and Translators and a resident poet at the Experimental Printmaking Institute, Lafayette College. Her poems have appeared in Baltimore Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Mezzo Cammin, The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review and other journals, and have been anthologized nationally and internationally, most recently in Welcome to the Resistance (Stockton University Press), Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (Scarlet Tanager Press), and A Constellation of Kisses (Terrapin Books).Her poetry has been translated into Lithuanian, Italian, and Albanian. She has edited two online anthologies for the former journal, The Drunken Boat: Contemporary Lithuanian Poetry in Translation (Winter 2002)and, with coeditor Margita Galaitis, “To Be The Roots:” Contemporary Latvian Poetry in Translation (Winter 2005). She has lectured on lineages in American women’s poetry at Vilnius University in Lithuania, the University of Latvia in Riga, and, through the American Consulate in Berlin, at the American Studies Departments of Goethe University in Frankfurt and the Universities of Bayreuth, Stuttgart, and Würzberg. Currently she is writing a group of poems responding to the work and life of the German Expressionist artist Käthe Kollwitz, which has been supported in part by a residency with the Department of English Language and Literatures at Humboldt University, Berlin. For her work in Artists in the Schools programs, Todd has received a Governor’s Award for Arts Education and a Distinguished Teaching Artist Award from the state of New Jersey and a fellowship from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Council. She is affiliated with the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Program and Festival, where she has been a featured reader and workshop facilitator. She has taught on the faculties of the Creative Writing Program at Bryn Mawr College and the Rosemont MFA Program and holds an MFA from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Courtney Bambrick is poetry editor at Philadelphia Stories. Her poems are in or forthcoming in Inkwell, Invisible City, New York Quarterly, Beyond Words, The Fanzine, Philadelphia Poets, Apiary, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Mad Poets Review, Certain Circuits. She teaches writing at Thomas Jefferson University’s East Falls campus in Philadelphia.

The Prodigal Daughter by Maria Ereni Dampman


Maria Ereni Dampman lost count of how many newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs she has written for over the years.A graduate of West Chester University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in Communication Studies and Journalism, she’s also an award-winning speechwriter and orator with examples of her winning works featured in collegiate textbooks for the past two decades. One of Maria’s greatest passions is social justice and equality for all. She’s a staunch crusader of a woman’s right to autonomy over her own body, a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, the LGBTQIA+ community, and a vocal proponent of nationwide election reform.

Review of Maria Ereni Dampman, The Prodigal Daughter

by Stephen Brown

Opening on the aftermath of an explosive terrorist attack, the second installment of Maria Ereni Dampman’s Daughters of the New American Revolution, The Prodigal Daughter, is a story of highly privileged family drama and political intrigue set on a dystopian stage. Dampman’s main character, Emma Bellamy, might at first be mistaken for a “quaking, terrified, grief-stricken girl” but she soon transforms into the pregnant action hero I never knew I needed, while squaring off with the pussy-grabbing “Purity Police,” an aptly named paramilitary force controlled by, you guessed it, her own father. The secretly-multi-ethnic de facto leader of the white supremacist government that has replaced our own, Edward Bellamy, is as contemptible as any comic-book supervillain. If Emma has her way, she’ll be the one to put a bullet between his eyes. Succeeding isn’t without its own complications, of course. The only person more powerful than Edward is the government’s near-comatose Supreme Archon to whom Emma is engaged against her will. Emma can count on one hand the people who know that she’s already married and that the father of her baby is miles away. If the Supreme Archon regains his ability to do anything other than make occasional furious eye contact, that number may grow!

Emma’s actual husband is casted as a hunky healer and all-around

damsel-in-distress. “Lithe,” “athletic,” and not so unlike “those ancient Greek statues of young warriors,.” Declan seems to have such a tough time keeping his clothes on and nobody’s complaining. We get it, tying your scrubs can be tricky! Unwilling to risk the last remaining East Coast oil refinery to civil unrest, the Supreme Archon commissioned a wall erected around the adjacent city. The inhabitants were presented with the option of surrendering or starving within. They chose neither. Declan embarks on a harrowing recovery period under the authority of Brother Love, the hulking leader of the Broad Street Bullies and the devout practitioner of a patient, forgiving, and now-outlawed form of Christianity. That isn’t to say Declan is welcomed with open arms. As far as the BSB is concerned, if you don’t have the accent, they don’t trust ya!

Dampman’s characters spend a significant amount of time separated and relatively clueless about one another’s activity, a storytelling choice that is more validating than fatiguing. Viewing the novel as a broad commentary on current events, this feels like an homage to our years spent in various forms of social isolation. Much like our own world during the quarantine era, Dampman’s is ruled by the cumulative, individual efforts of her characters.

While Dampman takes care in navigating post-traumatic stress from the nuanced perspectives of former military combatants and the male survivors of sexual assault, her most tragic portrayals are those of the queer and interracial partnerships that find themselves invalidated under the rules of this new regime. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of these is the story of Dr. John Andrews and his wife, Marta, both of whom suffer unimaginable losses yet somehow persevere through the sheer might of their adoration for one another. Their commitment to each other and their community is a triumph that brought a tear to my eye.

For Dampman’s queer characters specifically, the need for secrecy is sometimes so severe that even those closest to Emma share romantic histories she knows nothing about. I tend to read storylines of this nature with a heightened level of scrutiny and to

her credit, Dampman doesn’t disappoint. Her queer characters feel complex and thought out. Their personal motivations define them well beyond their sexual identities or their proximity to her straight characters. Without knowing how Dampman personally identifies, it’s possible she accomplishes something I rarely see from straight writers — that being, the joy of her queer characters is as represented in their storylines as their oppression. The Prodigal Daughter counterbalances the abject suffering of life under fascism with dark humor, friendship, and… a whole lot of Philadelphians doing exactly what Philadelphians would do.

Stephen Brown is a Philadelphia-based writer, editor, and LGBT+ activist. A graduate student at Rosemont College, Stephen holds a BA in English Literature and Gender Studies from Temple University. His work has appeared in the Women’s, Queer, Trans, and NB Anthology from Querencia Press, Wicked Gay Ways arts journal, and others.