Let’s be transparent here, this is not a strict book of poetry. Jonathan Koven’s Below Torrential Hill is very much a young-adult, dystopian novella. It’s a coming-of-age story about a boy, lost in an unfamiliar world with familiar goals of finding oneself amongst the bleak backdrop of a 21st-century world about to be left in ruins by a comet. And while it is not necessarily poetic in form, Koven’s many years in the world of poetry turn this into an epic of prose poetry, with a magical realism bent that will leave you to consider your own place in the world.
Somewhere between incoming comets and alcoholic mothers, Jonathan Koven’s main character, Tristan, finds himself trapped between a world he wants so badly, and one he wants so badly to leave behind. The undead bugs, the corpse of a father, and a mother who leads her life one wine glass at a time leaves both Tristan, and the reader, to examine whether or not there really is a “better” existence; or if we are all destined to simply live the life we’ve been given, and nothing more.
Koven does a marvelous job of intertwining mysticism with a natural want to be loved by those who are – at least according to modern society – supposed to love you the most, with the reality that even if things were to go completely right, eventually the comet still comes crashing down. Eventually, no matter how hard we try, we are who we are destined to be.