in review: Hothouse


Hothouse by Karyna McGlynn Publication Date: June 13, 2017 Publisher: Sarabande

Karyna McGlynn, author of I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl and Scorpionica, has a new book out from Sarabande Books. Hothouse, her second full-length collection of poetry,is broken up into sections (bedroom, library, parlor, etc.) filled with poems that loosely correspond to each room. McGlynn’s poetry, while often surreal, is always narrative, with every poem offering a beginning and an end. Primarily, the poems are about experiences with men, but it is the pieces about childhood, socioeconomic status, and the relationship to the self where the text proves most successful.

Hothouse gets off to a rough start via the “bedroom” section. With cringe-worthy lines such as “When I put my fingers on his stitches, he’ll spill his Right Stuff on my runway, touching secondary sex characteristics like spots on some Twister mat: right breast yellow, left testicle red, another flick of the spinner? Oh, sure,” it is difficult at times to keep going. However, there are points of redemption: “He kissed me. There was no heat in it. Only the mouth of a small goldfish swallowing a smaller goldfish,” and it is through these that one continues on. The narrator’s expression of the erotic is embarrassing and awkward, but one could say the same about sex itself, begging one to ponder the intentionality behind the uncomfortable, cheesy descriptions.

Hothouse’s “parlor” section is filled with scenarios that read like flash fiction. In the first piece, “Waiting for Greg O.,” the speaker and her roommate get excited and make endless preparations in hopes that a musician friend will stay with them during SXSW. Then they are bailed on and drink to the future. In “This is a Screwdriver, She Says,” two 11-year-old girls drink Smirnoff and get caught by one of their brothers while exploring oral sex in a closet.  This section, to me, seemed the most genuine, the least forced. The narrator’s telling of these stories, as well as the couple of surrealist scenarios in “parlor,” is direct, confident, and powerful, each piece ending with a punch.

In my favorite piece, “Eyebrows,” McGlynn writes, “I want to remind him how I once stuck a pin in the balloon of my long-term relationship in order to be drunk & excellent & eyebrow-less with him in the bad light of a Sheraton bathroom—watching him fuck me in the mirror, watching him already regret it, watching my eyebrows sweat off—” and my jaw drops. It is when the language strays from the heavy use of metaphors and instead provides a raw, honest narrative voice that McGlynn’s strength as a writer and storyteller begins to shine through.

Though the beginning of Hothouse feels trite, it is worth trudging through to get to the good stuff. McGlynn provides keen observations on human nature, drops her readers into a lot of strange scenarios, and ultimately escorts us through a hot house full of bizarre encounters that we can all relate to.

Shy Watson