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Book Reviews

The Art of Adultery

by Consuelo Jackman

The provocative title of this debut collection belies the measured calmness of the 22 poems contained within. The Art of Adultery attempts to articulate the passion and pain of impossible relationships through language that, considering the subject matter, is remarkably restrained.

Jackman has a knack for abrupt but judiciously timed shifts in thought and tone. In “A Brief History of Our Honeymoon,” the final line of the third stanza grafts a scrap of conversation onto an otherwise interior monologue: “I confess/to the back stair gossip/sweat and sinew/the half truths/it was only the once.” The juxtaposition of inner and outer voices makes the reader uncomfortably aware of the hypocrisy of the latter.

The book is divided into three sections of six, ten, and six poems each. Those divisions, however, are primarily cosmetic. When almost all the poems feature a female, first-person narrator reflecting on her position in an illicit affair, chapter divisions seem beside the point. The book’s structure is symptomatic of a deeper problem: despite the wrenching nature of infidelity, the poems themselves are so clean and elegant that they slip away from any profound examination of the subject.

Part of the problem here is that The Art of Adultery can be read in about 20 minutes. The book goes down as smoothly as a spritzer, full of pleasing images and situations that are easy to imagine oneself into. Jackman delivers the quiet minimalism, the sparseness, usually associated with contemporary short fiction or traditional Japanese poetry. Her handling of that style is admirable, but in this context it only anaesthetizes the wounds she’s trying to make us feel.