Set in Flint, Michigan, Buick City, a book of prose poems by Sarah Carson, explores the landscape and people of a dying Rust Belt City. Certainly, a reader diving into the pages of Carson's newest collection may expect the rust and dust of a city that is fading from the American landscape, yet, physical landscape is not the most important aspect of Buick City. Instead, we get a frank look of the lives navigating a rough, and in some ways, bleak, world around them.
Buick City opens with a poem titled, "The Beginning" with a clear description of how lives are intertwined with setting of this book. We see an Avon lady hanging "Shiny magazines on the "bent steel poles of mailboxes." We see the prostitutes who follow her, stealing the Avon pamphlets, "looking for ideas." We also see Rasta kings who "sell cigarettes, area rugs, handbags out of their camper van." In the background, a train shakes their world, rattling "dogs awake in ditches," shaking "windowsills full of spider plants," and turning on "touch lamps in the faces of sleeping children."
From this poem on, Carson's collection looks at the lives of people who navigate this landscape. The book intertwines a loose coming-of-age story of an unnamed narrator with other people who float in and out of her life. We are introduced to this narrator in the poem, "On TV the Boy Killer Wears My Same Sweater" where she explains that for several years she wanted to be a boy and that her father blamed her mother: "She's the one who let me play with cap guns. She's the one who let me wear the Ninja Turtle sweater to school day after day." As readers, we follow this narrator as she grows to adulthood, chucking rocks at police cars, witnessing her parents divorce, falling in and out of love. Landscape plays an important part in all of these stories. For instance, in "The Half Trailer" the narrator introduces us to her neighbor by what she can hear and smell through the thin walls of her mobile home: "That night I came home from work and stayed awake for hours listening to the movies he was watching, full of explosions and gunfire, underscored by the gentle rumble of his smoker's cough, the flick of his lighter, the sweet smell of his fat girlfriend's Family Dollar perfume."
Around this loose narrative arc, the reader is introduced to a variety of people. In one poem, "The Building" we are introduced to a lonely girl who leaves a note for the mailman that he will never read. In another poem, "Demolition Derby at the Fairgrounds" we learn about a man arrives home from a night out to dogs that are "disappointed to find that he's the first one home." And in a mini-series of poems about a 24 hour grocery store, we are introduced to a cast of characters that are struggling to survive both jobs and home life.
In spite of the grim details, and often times grim outlooks of her characters' lives, Carson also provides humor and hope in her poems. As I was reading through these prose poems, I couldn't help but compare her work to the fictional stories of Raymond Carver. Yet, while the people may be similar to the characters found in Carver's works, Carson often goes beyond the minimalistic techniques made popular by Carver. Indeed, after finishing Buick City, I found myself thinking about the wind on my face as a train rambles by or the strange smells of grocery stories or warehouses.
In a recent issue of Belt Magazine, Sarah Carson gave a great interview where she discusses Buick City. You can read her interview here. You can also visit her website.
In many ways, I am more of a reader than a writer. This page will serve as a home for my informal reviews of what I've been reading.