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Dessa “Spiral Bound” Review


I know, I know—a music critic writing a book review. Crazy, no? Well, maybe not. I actually went to school to study Literature, so technically speaking, I may be better suited for this sort of thing than writing about music (some amongst you might say that I would be even BETTER suited to just keep my trap shut, but that’s a different issue entirely).

In a similar fashion you might also question the logic of a rapper writing a book. Outlandish, right? But let’s set aside our need to fit things in tidy little shoeboxes for a few moments. The rapper that I speak of is Doomtree MC Dessa Darling, who just published her first literary work Spiral Bound under the Label/Hip-Hop Collective’s newly minted press. While there are some rappers-turned-authors whose works I am not exactly rushing out to pick up (50 Cent’s scholarly endeavors, for instance) Dessa’s talent for provocative and complex lyricism made me eager to check out the book as soon as it was published. Plus, according to local lore, she holds a degree in philosophy, teaches at a local college, and may just be smarter than you and I combined.

Spiral Bound is a collection of short fiction and poetry, and at less than seventy pages it is a pretty quick read. For a slim volume though, it contains a remarkable balance and several moments of sublime clarity. Its beginning and end are tied together, with stories of being seasick on land, and landsick on the water, respectively. This dichotomy is representative of the work as a whole, which is filled with contrasts, disparities, and contradictions. Life is full of such variance and Dessa accurately conveys these subtleties of human existence with levelheaded honesty and clear-eyed candor. Through sharing her strengths and flaws, she is able to connect with the reader’s sense of empathy on an intimate level. Though she is oftentimes the main character in her work, she is never the hero. In her confessions of fear of pain, mental struggle, and a simple need to be loved, Dessa comes across as just as flawed as the rest of us, the anti-hero to her own life story. In a world that loves heroes, but in reality has not a one, it’s this admission of weakness that we identify with, for who among us is even close to perfect?

It’s Dessa’s prose that I find myself drawn to the most, especially in opening piece “Alice Drowning,” with its straightforward yet mysterious narration. Though she lists such influences as authors Aimee Bender and Annie Dillard, I also see some similarities to Charles Baxter’s style in Dessa’s understated realism and dark wit. Spiral Bound also contains a number of poems, from the melancholy “A Little Note on All of it” to the humorous haiku “My New Purpose.” Though I am no expert on poetry, the most engaging of these I found to be “Nostalgia,” a tender piece of introspection on the author’s lost youth. If there is any flipside to Spiral‘s merits at all, it may be in Dessa’s disposition to philosophizing. While the nuances of her apologues come across best when she is letting the stories speak for themselves, she occasionally has a tendency to burrow down a rabbit hole of argument. For instance, “Camera Obscura” begins with an intriguing characterization of the narrator’s relationship with her father, but slides into a metaphysical rant on human existence that is interesting, but doesn’t exactly flow with the rest of the story.

Overall, I felt that Spiral Bound was an enjoyable read, if for no other reason than it allows the reader a gut level connection to the author’s experience. In these cities of millions of people, occasionally I find myself, as Dessa puts it, “maxed out by new faces.” We are so constantly bombarded with strangers that we start to take for granted the very humanity of each others’ existence (now I am the one on a philosophical ramble). If nothing else, Spiral Bound helps to turn one of those strangers into a real person, and in turn remind you of the wealth of diversity of experience that is out there in every soul we come into contact with. By becoming privy to one stranger—s thoughts, we can open our minds to the rest of the world.

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Also: “Spiral Bound” Release Party @ the Guthrie


    Nice, thoughtful review, Jon. I especially like how you noticed the seasick on land, landsick on water bookends to her work. Nice catch-I wouldn’t have noticed that if not for your review. Dessa has a unique and fresh perspective, and that comes through whether she’s writing or on stage. And the picture is a nice touch, as well :) Good review.

  • Thanks Erik, I appreciate it!

  • I wish I could read this book, I saw her quote a small section of the book and was just absolutely inspired to read it, only I dont know where to buy it from.
    This review was extremely interesting, especially for a book I haven’t read myself, if I do finally come to read it, I’l refer to this review, thanks!

    By the way, could you tell me where to buy it?
    Amazon and Waterstones don’t sell it.

  • Hi Michael – it can be purchased at Doomtree’s site here: http://store.doomtree.net/

  • Hey Michael-you can order the book directly from the Doomtree shop. Here’s a link-hope you enjoy the book. It’s a great read.


  • Ha, you might have beat me by two minutes, but I provided the more direct link :) Either way, you can’t say we don’t care about our audience.

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