Cover to Cover

Books by UNH faculty and alumni

The Voice at 3:00 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems, by Charles Simic
Reason for Leaving: Job Stories, A Novel, by John Manderino '88G

Also of note:
Elise Juska '97G
Judith Lutzhoff Scharff '78, '81G
Donald M. Murray '48
Laura Rankin '75
Ralph H. Desmarais '60, '63G
Samuel Ligon '89G
Joseph Freda '78G
Joan Elgosin Milnes '76

The Voice at 3:00 a.m.: Selected Late and New Poems
See at

The speakers in Charles Simic's poetry are often bewildered by large, existential questions: who or what lies behind all this life, and what lies beyond it? Nothing is there, the poet answers, although not without the wry humor that has become a trademark: "there are tasty little zeros/In the peanut dish tonight," he writes in "Autumn Sky" (2003). But Simic, a UNH professor of English and a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes about nothing in such a brilliant and affecting voice that it's oddly seductive.

Recently named a finalist for the National Book Award, Simic's latest volume is a major collection of 19 new poems, and much of his best work from the past two decades. In it, images of empty buildings and streets, of bare trees, of dust, darkness and death abound. If there are people in his poetry, there is miscommunication, and isolation. For example, in the new poem "Separate Truths," a couple attempts to communicate their confusion: "We'll have to run for it, I said,/And had no idea what I meant./The coming of the inevitable,/What a strange bliss that is,/And I had no idea what she meant."

It's all a maddening mystery, Simic asserts, so why do we worry ourselves with it? It is the human plight to grapple with unanswerable questions, he suggests. His poetry is concerned with the unrelenting mystery of the everyday, the nothing behind what we have created to fill time. In the new poem, "Something Large is in the Woods," he writes, "That's what the leaves are telling us tonight./Hear them frighten and be struck dumb/so that we sit up listening to nothing,/Which is always more worrisome than something."

Simic is no romantic. His speakers understand that the outside world is "shadowy/As your deepest self" (from "Romantic Landscape" 1994). Nature, if it has any secrets, is not letting us in on them, and has nothing to divulge about us.

Art and imagination cannot decode nothingness, either. In Simic's landscape, knowledge, truth, beauty and happiness are small fires that flare up, only to be doused by darkness.

But there is still the individual voice for which to be thankful. Simic has characterized the poetic process as "chewing on the bitter verb/'To be'" ("Mystic Life" 1999). His poetry reminds you to recognize the dark life of the soul.

Reasons for Leaving: Job Stories, a Novel See at
In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the term "novel" was applied to writing that was anything other than a history or a sermon. Here in the 21st century, occasionally a book comes along that reminds you how entertainingly flexible the form really is: Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer, for example, or, on the lighter side, Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. John Manderino's third novel is such a book.

Reason for Leaving is about a nameless protagonist's employment experiences, from his first job as a delivery boy for Novak's Meat Market in 1961, to "Writer, 1979 to the present." Its chronological format allows us to see what knowledge the protagonist does or does not gain from his various posts. The novel invites us to ponder the nature of work: how do jobs define us, and how should we view the various successes and failures we experience? Manderino's hero is well-meaning and deeply flawed, and his experiences are very real, and really poignant. They also are often hilarious.

As a boy, the protagonist hopes to be a baseball player, although he has a shadowy idea of his limitations: "I study the box scores. I have a deep desire that a few years from now my name will begin appearing there, and a deep fear that it won't." That fear, and a related one having to do with being labeled a quitter, begins to shape his psyche. He spends a summer digging ditches, everyday on the verge of quitting: "I look up at that one flimsy cloud, still there. I look down at the shovel in my hands. There's no escape, I realize. And I give up. I surrender to this place. To the sun. To eight hours a day. To work."

As he continues to experiment with different jobs--security guard, Vista volunteer, field worker, Zen Buddhist trainee--he confronts his inability to commit to a profession that fits. And baseball keeps coming up. After a disastrous stint as a tutor on an Indian reservation, he decides to try umpiring:

"All right, here we go, you're the boss, here it comes...
It's high.
A little.
I think.
Or is it.
I don't know.
Call something...
They seem to despise me... They found out I'm not really the boss. That I'm not really anything at all. That I go from job to job to job. That I'm back with my parents now. That next month I'll be thirty."

One might be tempted to define Manderino's novel as a loser pica-resque if it weren't so perceptive at detailing the emotional component of just about everybody's job experiences. You will recognize yourself in these funny, moving pages.