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An Atlas of Lost Causes

An Atlas of Lost Causes


Marjorie Stein


    2011, 112 pages

    ISBN 978-0-932716-79-8



    An Atlas of Lost Causes by Marjorie Stein pulls the reader into a rich, internal world where perception is doubled and "stars are just dead lightfalling behind schedule." As her poetic noir unfolds, quotidian detail accumulates as evidence of human scenarios bleeds into the infinite: "You know how sometimes, at night in a city, you may hear someone crying out in distress? The stains were that sound and shape, spilled in a darkness that smashes into awareness." At the core of the work are the narrator's attempts to understand the mystery surrounding her twin sister and an unnamed crime. Her contemplations circle around references to camera obscura, Muybridge photographs, Marlene Dietrich, and moreall in an effort to fathom how each human life must eventually end. Yet as the narrative progresses, the reader is led to wonder: Is it the twin's disintegration, or the narrator's, we watch unfold? Original line drawings accompany the text.



    Marjorie Stein was born in 1958 in rural southwestern Michigan. She traveled to San Francisco during her spring break in 1978 and decided to stay. Marjorie lives in Santa Rosa, California, where she works as a sustainability analyst for green building design. She currently serves as an Assistant Editor for VOLT. Marjorie's work has appeared in The Denver QuarterlyNew American WritingVOLTzaumPhoebePoetry MotelPavement Saw Press, and other publications. A previous chapbook manuscript, Flammable Histories, was a finalist in the Pavement Saw Press Chapbook Contest in 2002. An Atlas of Lost Causes is Stein's first book.


    The murder mystery presented as an asymptote: throughout her exquisitely careful, relentless layering of stunning phrase after stunning phrase, we feel Stein getting closer and closer, forever approaching the impossible and unidentified crime that shes exploring ever more minutely all the time. Her tools of exploration are a twin sister, a camera obscura, one-way ephemera, an iridescent death, and much, much else, all set on the trail of all that cannot be named, or our desperate desire for it. A jubilantly haunting work.

    —Cole Swensen

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