Arts & Culture

Book Reviews: February 2014

Tales from the Holy Land by Rafael Alvarez, Unruly Catholic Women Writers Edited by Jeana DelRosso, Leigh Eicke & Ana Kothe and Gentlemen of the Harbor by Captain Bill Eggert

Tales from the Holy Land

Rafael Alvarez (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing)

Baltimore is the Holy Land, Alvarez is its Pope of pulp. These 19 short
stories exude hardboiled fortitude and an aversion to pretension of all
types. Populated with anti-heroes and set mostly between Fells Point
and Highlandtown, they pull the vigorous specificity of Mencken’s Happy
Days through The Wire (a show he helped write) with so many details
intact that they feel utterly real. But Alvarez’s fiction also traffics
in the mysteries of human kindness and cruelty, and his soulful
rendering of characters such as Basilio Ballousa, Pio Talle, and Gibby
Lukowski makes these stories true. His people are from the streets, but
they believe in something bigger——be it a familial bond, Catholic
mysticism, or the music of Johnny Winter——and that’s what ultimately
makes these tales transcendent.

Unruly Catholic Women Writers

Edited by Jeana DelRosso, Leigh Eicke & Ana Kothe (Excelsior Editions)

together by DelRosso, an English professor at Notre Dame of Maryland
University, and two co-editors, this literary anthology seems especially
timely with Pope Francis shaking up things at the Vatican. It
spotlights writers who are, indeed, unruly. But they’re also thoughtful,
witty, and sensitive, and their irreverence is part of a two-sided coin
in the air. Here, their personal essays, monologues, short stories,
plays, and poems are grouped in three sections: “The Joyful Mysteries,”
“The Sorrowful Mysteries,” and “The Glorious Mysteries.” Mystery, not
dogma, infuses the pieces, as these women grapple with the inspiration
and indignation Catholicism has produced. Many of them continue
contemplating the silences and empty spaces that religion fills for many

Gentlemen of the Harbor

Captain Bill Eggert (self-published)

opening story in Rafael Alvarez’s Tales from the Holy Land involves a
teenager losing his virginity aboard a tugboat. Eggert’s tugboat history
includes nothing as racy as that——though, coincidentally, its cover and
the Alvarez cover are nearly identical——as its captains and crews
generally live up to the book’s title. Superbly illustrated with
photographs by famed Sun photographer Hans Marx and others, it depicts a
way of life that is hidden in plain view. Tugboats have been a common
sight around the harbor for generations, but most people aren’t privy to
the culture arising from these decks and docks. Eggert remedies that
with a pithy mix of maritime history and local legend, augmented by old
newspaper stories and even an occasional poem.