Book reviews

The Rocky Hill

Author: Ilana Haley
Publisher:Pardes (February 1, 2010)
ISBN: 9781441583024
Rating: Three Stars (out of Five)

 

Ilana Haley takes readers from the Israeli desert to metropolitan New York City, from the confusions of a little boy to a woman torn between her husband and her lover, accomplishing these disparate journeys in a mere seven stories and thirty-three poems.

Many of Haley’s free verse poems are sad, while others shine with strong imagery, relying on everyday language to construct resonating visions. For example, in “Crazy Sun,” she writes, “In the vortex of consciousness / You are a glowing gallop / In the abyss of my youth / You are an orchid / Of the sun.”

The seven stories are somewhat melancholy, dancing through emotionally narratives. In the title story, “The Rocky Hill (Rita),” a young boy lives on a kibbutz with his mother, Rita, and her husband, the brother of the boy’s dead father. The boy’s resemblance to his father, a man the mother loved more than her husband but never married, sends the mother into an emotional spiral.

In “Strawberry Omelet,” a little girl, the boy’s best friend on the kibbutz, attempts to thwart her beloved grandmother’s impending death, coaxing her grandmother from a hospital bed to fix her favorite egg dish:

“More jam,” said Nati. The child’s voice entered Marta’s body and stayed there.

“It’ll burst,” Marta said; her eyes wide open, and she is taking leave of the clouds and the trees and the birds and the mountains. She heard Nati’s voice saying into her back, “Let it burst.”

Two of the more affecting stories are “Bury Me, Gabriela” and “Desert Dance (Liat).” In “Dance,” readers meet Liat in New York City and learn of her service in the Israeli Defense Force. In her youth, assigned as an instructor at a desert outpost, Liat meets Emil, a Moroccan Jew, and becomes embroiled in environment she does not understand.

In “Gabriela,” the protagonist descends into guilt over being absent when her father died in Israel. She attempts to carry out his funeral wishes, but alienates her mother in the process. Her unrelenting grief apparently destroys her marriage, and then on a trip to New York City, she finds herself tempted both by a ménage à trois and a lesbian encounter with her best friend: “‘You should have seen the expression on your face, Gabriela,’ Alexandra said. ‘Mockery? Disdain? You who is in search of the center, the umbilicus, the lost connection.’”

As above, the author occasionally stumbles over grammar or syntax, and it is sometimes necessary for the reader to keep a close eye on point of view, but the writing is deeply emotional, especially when presented in the female voice.

The Rocky Hill offers readers something out of the ordinary, a blend of the exotic and the personal, rooted in the experience of modern Israel and leavened by a Western perspective.

Gary Presley

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Publication, in Tel Aviv
Review of Ilana’s poetry, by Oded Wolkstein, Top Editor at Kter

Moments when time cease moving, and its naked shape show its face; moments that
after them you would not be who you were. Every one of Ilana Haley stories
poems, is a journey into an emotional transformation; black holes in the cosmology of the
soul. A special kind of stories, a special kind of poems. with a soft, but firm hand she
returns again and again to the wound that from it the words are oozing in a flood that
does not coagulate. In the tremble of this touch there also exist a dimension of a healing.

But when we talk about real art, there exists also the primordial wound. Ilana stretches
the language to the edge of fear, a stream of loneliness; her words are used on the
border of the silence. She writes from the depth of pain that never get old. Ilana’s book is
the pure shape of this pain. When you read her stories and poems, you understand, that

Ilana invites again and again her subjects­­­a lover, a friend, an old memory or different
metamorphosis of the singing “I” ­­ in order to return an convince herself of the distant
between her and them. Under the warm voice, flows constantly another voice: knowing,
thinking, and harsh. The voice that saves from all these intensive meeting the eternal
truth of loneliness. These stories and poems can also be read as a string of separations.

She conceals in her poems the strong composition that is given to those who were
banished from the garden of eden­­ never to return.
But the loneliness of Ilana is wander. In the dark­room of her aloneness, Ilana captures
one after another the moments of love that were captured in her glass of words­­ words
that forever are the bandage, forever are the wound, forever are the salt that awaken the
pain which never get old. Ilana’s book is the pure image faithful to this pain.

Review by Laurie John • INVOCATION


Ilana’s poem “Say the words” is an intoxicatingly musical invocation to an entity which,
when all else seems likely to fail, is conjured up out of the poet’s imagination as a savior.

This invoked entity has two realms which exist together: the glorious realm of the sunset
sky and the loving soul of the poet. Its function is to calm the storm that threatens all life
on the planet, to soothe the tortured earth and, in a strange and unexplained way to
borrow from the poet a rhyming incantation that can mend the torn cosmos itself.

As a reward, the savior is offered the glorious virginal love of the supplicant, who, as a
result of the ensuing union, will calmly dwell in emollient, eternal light and be pointed to
the skies.

Though derived from a Hebrew original, the poem shows obvious parallels with Christian
thought.

So much for the content. What about the form?

Ilana has chosen a matrix which at first could be mistaken for free verse, but it is not.
Rather it is a species of non­rhyming, non­metrical verse which borrows from Gerard
Manley Hopkins in that it approximates to the rhythms of speech. In general it is
beautifully and flawlessly constructed, all but the first line!

Given the typo at the beginning of the second stanza one wonders whether “Violet” was
meant for “violent” but then, given the ensuing turbulence one feels driven to let “violent”
stay in which case “clasp the granite sky” should follow because “violent” is a state of
existence and “granite” must here be a color so the two words cannot perform the same
kind of function in the one line. Then again, given the presence of “the silence” in line 2
the poet may have wanted to avoid a repetition of approach. If that were so the jingle
would be avoided by “clasp a granite sky”. Overall she probably felt that stylistically the
percussive nature of the line as it stands was more appropriate.

Nit picking? Perhaps, but this poem is so near perfection that details are worth
consideration. Look, for example, at the phrase “the lashes of my mind”. This conjures up
a number of different interpretations and, in a poem of this nature, that is no bad thing.

In all, a magnificent poem indeed. Thank you.

 

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