USEREVIEW 145 (Capsule): Glass Essays

Deirdre Danklin/ December 20, 2023/ Book Review, Capsule Review

J.A. Bernstein
Glass Essays (Variant Literature, 2023)
ISBN: 978-1-95560-213-6 | 29 pp | $11 USD — BUY Here


Glass Essays by J.A. Bernstein, published in 2023 by Variant Literature, is a chapbook of short personal essays that covers the author’s time in the Israeli Army, his work as a professor in Mississippi and his domestic life with his wife and children. The pieces in this collection take a moment in time (children running — their mother running after them — a firefight in contested territory, sitting at a desk writing an email to the President, hoping to halt an arms deal) and explode it into shards of memory, emotion and regret. We understand that raising young children is hard, living paycheck to paycheck is hard and war is hard, but there is always a glinting moment of hope or beauty — however fleeting — in these pieces that make them complex and unexpected. We might feel the urge to snap the husband to attention when his wife is busy feeding, clothing and cleaning their brood while he broods, but there is also a lot of insight in these stopped moments. Life can be a sharp piece of glass, but it also reflects light.

Recommended excerpt:

This excerpt (‘Black Earth,’ 2014, p. 22) shows how the pieces in this collection veer from matter-of-fact looks at the tragic (a granddaughter palming the chin of her beloved grandmother who no longer recognizes her) to close looks at tiny beautiful things (the pillow pyramids), holding fast against sorrow.

My wife, who was principally raised by her grandmother but left Russia in her teens, can’t bear to see her like this, with only a hint of recognition between them. The stroke has rendered her mostly mute. My wife is stoic, however, palming her grandmother’s chin.

Beside the door, my daughter slaps her aunt’s leg, scurries to a table, and snatches down a carton of kefir. It’s 6:22. We’re leaving soon.

Along the bed, the pillows have been arranged systematically into miniature pyramids, as Russians like to do. My wife once explained that it was a welcoming gesture, though it’s unclear if her grandmother sees.

Deirdre Danklin holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and lives in Baltimore, Maryland with her husband, son and two cats. Her flash fiction and essays have been published in Hobart, Pithead Chapel and The Jellyfish Review, among others. Her debut novella, Catastrophe, which won the 2021 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize and was nominated for a 2022 Shirley Jackson Award, was published by Texas Review Press. Danklin’s flash fiction chapbook, How to Start a Coven, was published by Variant Literature in 2022. More:

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