TAR
Send this review to a friend
More book reviews at TAR
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poemsThe St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
The St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection of short stories or poems
Body Language
by Mark Cunningham

Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2008

Reviewed by Stephen Karl


First impression:  The reader needs some help, some outside “assistance” if you will.  Booze? Maybe. Weed would be better.  Open the senses just enough to block out the doubt.  Focus the daydreaming. 

Second impression--six minutes later and substance free: Just keep reading.  It’s damn good. 

It may not be what author Mark Cunningham intended, but Body Language’s greatest pleasure is as an adventure, an excellent adventure layered in sophistication exceeding anything Bill & Ted dialed up in 1989.  Body Language weaves through a brain-scrambling obstacle course not unlike what one perceives pin wheeling through Hunter S. Thompson's imagination — though Cunningham’s use of language shows respect for humans, and the human body, by leaps and bounds more than Gonzo ultimately did.  Yet Body Language remains accessible without being easy, like Jeopardy.  We watch — or in this case read — to see how smart we are.  Cunningham tests what allusions, anecdotes, punch lines you know, be they liturgical, canonical, numerical, numerological, historical, mystical, magical, simple, or other.  Turning the page to the next 10 to 12 line vignette brings anticipation that this is the chapter you’ll get, this time the inside secret is all mine.  This time I’m as smart as Mark Cunningham. 

At its core, Body Language is about us.  Each of us. At least once.  Twice.  Most of the time.  For some, it may be every page.  It’s funny, sad and serious.  Ultimately, reflective.  

Chapter "Q", Page 33: “…you’d rather be a clog than a cog, but every night as sleep’s suckhole caves beneath you, squads of bicycles pedal toward factories in China and Taiwan.  Opportunity? Only blackouts roll freely.”  That’s powerful; it’s the kind of line you don’t forget.  Gods do not answer letters, as Updike wrote, even if he was only talking about baseball.

The author certainly gets his digs in as well.  This critic fell for one.  "Primer", the title of one half of the dipytch, attributes letters and numbers to identify each chapter.  For the most part they go in order, from A to B and 1 to 2 to 3 and so on and so forth.  Without giving too much away, yours truly felt strongly about when and how the narrative should end.  That is until the following page, when he blushed with his tail between his legs.

Lyrically, Body Language is impressive.  On page 26 of "Body", the title of the book’s other half, the chapter is titled "Fourth Finger" or little anchor as it’s described.  It’s one of life’s hidden gems we never think about, never credit enough, or at all.  For whoever reads this book, there will be other words, phrases, chapters that catch their eye but perhaps not mine.  Beyond being an impressive collection of thoughts and poetic prose, Body Language is a great choose-your-own adventure.  There’s something for us all.  And that’s fun. 

At its worst, if you’re not careful, Body Language seeps into your own writing.  You just hope what you write makes sense.  Then you go back and read it again.

STEPHEN KARL is a graduate of Ithaca College and earned a master's degree from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.  He lives in San Francisco with his fiancee and works as a business writer up near wine country.