This Book Stinks (But Not in the Way You Think)

by Britt Tisdale Staton

Self-discovery is a good thing, right? I learned something about myself as I tried to review Gina Ochsner’s The Russian Dreambook of Color and Flight for Rock & Sling. I can’t do it. Here’s why: I find I am enamored of my professor. After just one residency—ten days—in Seattle Pacific University’s (SPU) Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, my ability to separate my fiction writing mentor, Ochsner, from her work has flown out the window in much the magic realism style of her characters who sometimes literally take flight. As a result, what you find here is less a book review and more a personal response (okay, fine, a valentine) to Ochsner and her first novel.

Starry-eyed as I may be, I do wonder—Ochsner’s characteristically gentle workshop word, wonder—about several elements of Russian Dreambook which, despite its titular trifecta of whimsy words, is not pretty. It’s not a place you want to hang out like, say, Marilynne Robinson’s small-town Gilead, or the seaside of Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy. And yet, it’s beautiful. Ochsner seems to create this ashy beauty through deft juxtaposition of wisdom, often spiritual, against a backdrop of the absurd. “I think absurdity is a revelatory device,” she says. “It’s also a lot of low-down, messy, sloppy, nonsensical fun, and I’m all about having fun.”

Britt Tisdale Staton enjoys indoor plumbing in downtown Orlando, Fla., where she runs Alive Studios, her counseling, writing, and personal shopping business ( Her work has appeared in Leadership, Ignite Your Faith, and Group, among others. She recently completed the novel manuscript A Sacrifice of Vanity.

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