Book review: Shine, by Donnelle McGee

Cover of Shine

McGee, Donnelle. Shine. Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012. PB. 97p. $14.95. 978-1-937420-19-2

Shine defies description.  Yes, it is a poetry collection whose verses have an easy-to-read quality that makes them flow smoothly off the page.  But the collection is also the mystery of what happened to Bray, a young street hustler who died in a seedy motel room right before he was planning to get out of the business.

It’s also a Rashomon-style novella told from several different perspectives.  And the collection plays with time and form, placing poetry within poetry.  In short, Shine can be hard to define.  This doesn’t detract from the fact that it is a fantastic collection, and well worth the effort.

Donnelle McGee delivers the story of Shine through 79 interlocking poems, almost universally Cormac McCarthy-esque dialogues with ambiguous speakers and no quotation marks.  The short bites delivering pieces of the story make the reader as much a sleuth as the detective investigating Bray’s murder.  But McGee makes you want to know what’s happened, and you want to know it right now.  I finished Shine in a single sitting, but the reader is rewarded by going back for more.

If anything negative can be said about Shine, it’s that the reader has to pay attention or risk missing out on something.  McGee does not waste a single word in this collection; thus the ambiguous narrators, unclear time periods, and out-of-order story could be confusing to some readers.  However, McGee always shows up just at the right moment, providing just a little bit of narrative help, pointing out who the narrator is or what the time period for this particular poem might be.  He forces the reader to work for the full story but he never leaves them adrift without a paddle.

McGee has previously published poems in a variety of journals, but Shine is his first independently published work.  A forthcoming novel is expected soon.  More examples of his work can be found at

Shine is recommended to any library looking for a reader’s gateway into poetry.  The poems combine into a narrative mystery that drives the reader on to the very end.  In the same way, it has the potential to drive readers into considering poetry that they may have never considered before.

Reviewer: John Mack Freeman


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