Book Review: Fruit Mansion by Sam Herschel Wein
Sam Herschel Wein is a poetry editor for The Blueshift Journal and is co-founder of Underblog. His chapbook Fruit Mansion (Split Lip Press, 2017) was selected as the winner of the 2016 Turnbuckle Chapbook prize. Recent work has appeared in Vinyl Poetry, Pretty Owl Poetry, Connotation Press, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Cotton Xenomorph, and more.
A Review of Sam Herschel Wein's Fruit Mansion
Sam Herschel Wein’s Fruit Mansion is an invitation to bite into the sweet and sour pulp of his poems about space, coming-to-age, sexuality, body, and appetite represented in its many facets. Wein invites hungry readers to the table, where his reoccurring food conceit provides comfort as the uncomfortable is confronted.
In Wein’s “Angst in Threes,” the poem speaks to both the actualization and angst that comes with recognizing sexuality: “Everything is sex. I never asked.” The staccato sentences speak to the direct, matter-of-fact realization of the situation. Even in recognizing the situation, the following statements hide a complexity that feels relatable, yet not easily explainable: “I actor / actress. I the part. I playing stage.” The poem’s speaker observes and inherits the behaviors that everyone around exhibits. The observations do not arrive to an explainable analysis, but simply, the speaker accepts the feelings as natural: “Everyone is naked. Just so young. Just so hungry.” The success of “Angst in Threes” is that the poem depicts a natural actualization of sexuality that most people experience, yet any complexity that arises from the subject is a result of the reader’s own projection. Wein presents a simple coming-to-age moment through a direct tone as he allows readers to add the complexity of reaching sexual maturity and their relationship to sexuality.
In “Asking for Sugar,” Wein changes the direction and atmosphere of his poems, channeling an uncomfortable confrontation. The poem turns from an appetite for sweetness to the acidic sensation of slit taste buds and gums:
Wein’s speaker experiences words forced into their mouth, showing the danger in boundaries crossed, which adds importance to consent, even when the words of the speaker are limited. The poem ends on an emotional singe:
[…] a pink so plush
Wein’s poems interrogate run-ins with homophobia and misogyny that many queer bodies experience, alluding to the internalization that the antagonist of “Asking for Sugar” displays. The disrespect against boundaries and consent is a sign of the complex power dynamics Wein captures in his poem, adding to the uncomfortable, bitter scenario.
“Hey Fat Boy” appears after “Asking for Sugar,” sharing the same level of shame that antagonists force out of queer and fat bodies, pressuring marginalized people into internalized feelings. Wein explores desirability politics, and the complexity that comes with bodies that do not adhere to the heteronormative expectations of what a body is supposed to appear and act as. For instance, the second stanza of “Hey Fat Boy” shows how shame results from othering:
bet if he asked you to be skinny, boy,
The unhealthy outcome of body-shaming leads the subject of the poem to a general reaction. The subject’s response is to conform to cultural criticism of what a body is supposed to look like, rather than propose a problem with how others perpetuate body expectations. “Hey Fat Boy” addresses a projected persona that results in an unhealthy internalization, which upsets the positive connotations associated with appetite such as desire and pleasure. Instead, the persona being addressed appeases to the chastising antagonist, and adopts the negative connotations of appetite such as obsession. For the subject, obsession comes in the form of not eating, and by proxy, not eating signifies the obsession of wanting to fit what is considered desirable: “bet you couldn’t have asked / for anything, or seconds, / or a piece of cheese.” The poem represents the indignity that queer and fat bodies face because of others’ easy acceptance of what society deems desirable or attractive, without realizing the harm and falsity of basing one’s own standpoint off of a cultural norm.
Fruit Mansion is a collection of abundance, feeling much like home, which is full of confrontation with family, friends, strangers, and society as a whole. Wein’s poems experience a range of situations, taking on personas that struggle and survive on their own. The reader witnesses the desire that comes with an appetite to continue to move forward for the opportunity to provide nourishment for those who connect to Wein’s verses. Fruit Mansion is ultimately a space for those reconciling their disparities, and where healing can begin to take form.
Miguel is the Book Review Editor for Jet Fuel Review. As an editor, his main concern is centering on marginalized voices. He appreciates radical, unapologetic writers, who can explore, both, the emotional and intellectual stresses found in examining the systemic results lived in a body's political standpoint. He has been published in EFNIKS, Rogue Agent, and others. He also writes for the Jet Fuel Review blog: Not Your Binary: A QTPOC Reading Column.