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The Robot Scientist’s Daughter

78 pages
6” x 9” Paperback
ISBN 978-1-936419-42-5
First Edition
Review Copy: Paperback
Mayapple Press
Woodstock, New York, USA
Available HERE
Review by L. A. Lanier

In her fourth book of poetry, Jeannine Hall Gailey takes readers on a haunting journey through a past often forgotten: America’s reigning “Atomic City.”

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter weaves tales of a seemingly innocent farm life and the wonderment of a home no longer standing. However, while simple pleasures like climbing trees and horseback riding are mentioned, a harsher reality unfolds by the collection’s examination into the lives of those involved with nuclear research.

The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is more than a title, though. She becomes the metaphorical lens through which some of the hardest tales are told. Whether she is seeking to understand her differences or suffering through conditions beyond her control, her voice is distinct. Gailey’s choices in narrative challenge readers by making them question which pieces are pulled from her own life, as a robotics professor’s daughter, or from her imagination. Her exploration into the residual effects of radiation is, at times, despairing. Needless to say, all these aspects keep the work engaging.

[...] her mother has started calling her morbid.

As a child she studied the Latin names for diseases, [...]
[...] This cannot end well,
her mother thought; she had encouraged playing
with other children, the joys of tag.

But instead [...]
[...] She puts leaves in her hair
and collects fossils, lining them up to spell words,
the swirling trilobite, the imprints of the mysterious dead.
(from “The Robot Scientist’s Daughter [morbid],” p. 16)

[...] Carbon-based structures,
we absorb from the water, from the air,
from our food, from our walls,
from our parks and fishing ponds.

We absorb and our body says:
it is good.
(from “Elemental,” p. 42)

Gailey claims to have spent several years researching for this book, and it shows. From the pieces focusing on families compensated and swearing secrecy to scientific terminologies illuminating her imagery, there is a solid balance, and overlap, of science and fiction.

[...] Not the children
dying of leukemia quietly in hospitals funded
by government grants, uncounted because
their numbers might be damning.

[...] They’ve signed away the lives of their families
on government papers. They do not discuss cancer
at the breakfast table. They might suffer and die,
but they do so in respectable silence. [...]
(from “They Do Not Need Rescue,” p. 71)

The erudition of the work is neither arrogant nor written in a way that feels alienating to readers for their lack of knowledge. One does not need to have taken a recent Chemistry course to understand the various elements she mentions. Like Cesium which, from the opening poem, readers learn (or are reminded) “[...] Burns Blue.” If anything, it may instill a desire in readers to brush up on the science or conduct their own research into the history of Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Several themes reoccur throughout the collection that could seem repetitive to some, but given the nature of the book, returning to select concepts makes sense. Her writing does not come across as trying to milk these themes. In fact, each piece conveys an interesting tale, perspective, or further exploration into the life of a scientist and his daughter that enhances the overall tone of the work.

America’s past is not the only topic of interest. Gailey touches on some of the nuclear disasters from abroad, e.g. Chernobyl and Fukushima. Doing so provides an even wider scope of the implications of nuclear gone wrong. Final verdict? It is difficult to stop reading after each poem. The Robot Scientist’s Daughter is not only well written, but well executed and worthy of any poetry lover’s time.

L. A. Lanier is a Publicist for Alternating Current Press and a Staff Book Reviewer for The Volt. She is an emerging writer focusing on the mastery of micro/flash fiction and dabbling in poetry. While a bachelor’s in Sociology didn’t quite lend itself to creative writing, she incorporates elements of her studies into her work, one piece of which can be found on Paragraph Planet. If you enjoy her reviews or wish to know more, feel free to visit her site and follow her on Twitter at @TheSquibbler (She assures both are more interesting than this bio.).

• This book was sent to Alternating Current from the author. The reviewer does not know the author or the publisher. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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