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by Jennica Harper

One of the most difficult relationships to describe is the connection between an audience (whether they be readers, listeners, or viewers) and fictional characters. It’s one thing when a deeply obsessed brony announces he believes himself to be married to Fluttershy from My Little Pony; it is, however, disingenuous to suggest that audience relationships with invented characters are “normal” only when contained by the bounds of curiosity and entertainment. We feel great affection and sympathy for characters, or profound repulsion and anger, and the breadth of online fan fiction speaks volumes about how devoted readers can be to the characters and stories they love.

In her third collection, Jennica Harper engages with pop culture with a deep understanding of exactly how captivating fiction can be and how deeply we connect with imaginary characters. Harper, who also writes for the Showcase series Mr. Young, has a complex understanding of the nature of fictional relationships. The strongest poems, and the strangest, belong to the sections that bookend the collection: “Realboys,” about the physical transformation of the wooden puppet Pinocchio, and “Roots: The Sally Draper Poems,” which give a rich and radiant voice to the eponymous Mad Men character as she contends with the rage and adoration she feels toward her father.

Wood is also an exploration of parenthood, one of the most fraught and complicated relationships of all. The most heartrending section, “The Box,” is told in the voice of Wilhemina Beatrice Rahner, Harry Houdini’s wife, who attempts to conjure non-exist­ent children through dreams and longing. While her partner may be capable of great illusions, she fumes that the well of magic is incapable of giving her a child outside of her imagination. 

While the longings and fears of parents are captured in Wood, it is in the pain and perils of children – wanted or rejected, living up to expectations or running away from their parents – that Harper finds her most powerful voice. In allowing these characters to be glibly, gloriously fictionalized, their narratives become even more authentic.