Review: THE BONES OF US by J. Bradley & Adam Scott Mazer

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Reviewed by Kristen Valentine

The Bones of Us uses both words and images to paint a picture of a marriage in shambles. This is a graphic poetry collection–not merely illustrated, which would imply that the art is secondary to the art–that doesn’t hold much back. From the first page, it’s pretty clear that you’re reading something unusual. Bradley’s sharp, laconic verse is perfectly matched with Mazer’s heavy-handed but haunting drawing style–each brings something to the table here, so that the words and the art complement and feed off of each other. The art builds on the rich imagery in the poems, going much farther rather than just stopping there. Thus, the experience of reading is more sensory than you might expect, the layers of images in your head combining with the images on the page to form a multi-layered landscape.

These poems can be brutal. From booze-fueled fights to divorce court to a jewelry store to sell back an engagement ring, the pages manage to convey loss without slowing down or losing energy. My favorite entry in the collection is “Ready for Processing,” that jewelry store scene:

I look at the other jewelry in the consignment section as he enters the ring into the system with the other prisoners. The foreclosures, pointing fingers, the funds for a fuck-you bender. It makes me a little sick to see my artifact of failure take its place in the glass case.

Through all the bleakness, though, there’s a sense that the narrator is reaching a place of clarity. It’s like a compressed conversation with a friend who’s going through a rough time–it leaves you shaken but hopeful at the same time. I hope to see more work from these two–their particular blend of art and words is captivating.