A Mutual Understanding: A Review of The Black Telephone

Coming into Slash Pine, I had no idea what a chapbook was. After an entire semester as an intern for a press that prints chapbooks, I still did not have a concrete definition. Maybe that is my partiality toward novels, or prose in general, and Slash Pine typically prints poetry, but I finally had the idea to look up the definition of ‘chapbook.’ According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it is “a small pamphlet containing tales, ballads, or tracts, sold by pedlars; North American a small paper-covered booklet, typically containing poems or fiction.” Now that I feel that I understand what a chapbook is, I feel better prepared to offer a review of one.

The Black Telephone by Kari Larson is a beautiful chapbook published by Unthinkable Creatures, a chapbook press based out of Gainesville, Florida. This is the first chapbook that I have read that I did not have a hand in making, and it was quite refreshing to see work done by other people.

The first thing that caught my attention about this chapbook was the cover. As I mentioned, this book is beautiful, but not only in content. The cover is a lovely cream color with a delicate background photo and striking fonts. The black glitter outlining the photo is a wonderful design choice, and it is even more beautiful in person than it was on the website from which I purchased it. Then you open the book, and you find a black page between the cover and title page. It contrasts well against the cream cover and stark, white paper. The pages of the chapbook are very smooth, and they are much thinner than the cardstock cover. The font on the inside of the chapbook looks like “Arial Narrow,” and it works well with the overall design of the book. The book is bound by unwaxed, black thread using the simple saddle-stitch, but instead of tying the thread on the inside of the book, the thread is tied and the tail is on the outside of this chapbook. I really love the black thread binding, but I wonder if there could have been a more decorative knot, perhaps even a bow, made for the tail, since it is on the outside of the book.

Just looking at the cover or glancing at the title gave me no indication of what this book was going to say. So, without further adieu, I began to read The Black Telephone by Kari Larson. Right away I felt connected to the narrator, which is a vital part of my pleasure while reading. When I came across the lines, “I don’t want to implicate someone, so I would go as far as I could to give them their own experience that they won’t doubt the veracity of and keep them out of mine. But I will frighten them, I will make them concerned for me,” on page two, I knew that I was under the spell of this narrator. I needed to hear everything that she had to say. This chapbook shows a side of depression that is difficult to convey; it reminds me of British playwright Sarah Kane. I would argue that this chapbook would function as a wonderful introduction or even companion to Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis. I would highly recommend this chapbook to anyone, if for no other reason than to get a glimpse at the beauty behind the madness.

-Amber Brown

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