Betsy Struthers is a poet and novelist and the author of Found: A Body.
False Shuffles is the first book of poetry by Jane Urquhart, whose poems and prose pieces have appeared in several literary magazines. Divided into four sections, the book surveys small-town life through the lens of a surreal, intense magnification of the idiosyncrasies of the characters portrayed. The first section, “The Undertaker’s Bride,” is a short suite of poems portraying the life of the wife of the undertaker in Niagara Falls, a woman whose job is to keep account of the bodies retrieved from the water. The poet sees her lists of physical characteristics, clothing, and small possessions as a model for the writing of poems, the necessity to keep track of the minutiae of existence equivalent to the need to write things down: “it looks as if it couldn’t be /helped /it looks as if /somebody /had to write it.” The second section, “Blood in the Lobby,” is a series about waitressing in a bar. Although they remain surprisingly detached in tone, relying more on suggestion than fact, some of these are outstanding portraits, especially “Fireman,” “Max,” and “Mr. Bloombury.” The last two sections, “False Shuffles” and “Tales I’m Not Likely To Tell,” suffer from this same detachment. Although the form and style are impressive, the reader finds it difficult to overcome the rather cold, impersonal voice.
Stylized drawings of playing cards by artist Tony Urquhart illustrate the text and underline the irony of the title. False Shuffles is a fine first book for Jane Urquhart and shows promise of an interesting future.