Good/Grief
Josh Koppel
(Perennial/Melcher Media)

The same color, size, and weight as a block of cheese, the new book by visual artist Josh Koppel might seem clever and precious at first glance, but the stories inside hold real power. Each page is like a haunting little postcard with simple phrases that move into the each other, deftly building these biographical tales into dazzling home movies full of childhood melancholy and love. Architect/artist Maya Lin calls him "the Woody Allen of cyberspace," and cultural taste-maker Ira Glass has even raved about Koppel's inventions.

There are six quick tales, and although they take less than an hour to read, you may find yourself thinking about them for a long time after. The first story, "Dan," painfully tells of a childhood nemesis who is killed in a ski accident. With each sentence, the story transforms into beautiful, simple poetry: "I followed Dan down the mountain./ And he hit a tree./The snow exploded and slowly drifted down over where he lay./My first impulse was to laugh./He did not get up."

Koppel then throws a brilliant curveball with "Theo," a sweet tribute to his little brother. It's such an unexpected turn in the book--such an honest and moving display of familial friendship--that it may have you reaching for a hanky.

"Svelte" starts like a similar tribute to his grandfather but shifts gears when grandpa confronts Josh about going to a psychiatrist. Koppel's images throughout are simple and understated with a nostalgic taste. They act as a visual rhythm to the words, something to help you reflect on them, even if some of them seem so vague as to be unnecessary.

The real magic here is in Koppel's stories, and his way of presenting them, making this book something special. The author's website features a story about his bedwetting days that is not included in this book, but is just as great as the others: www.joshkoppel.com.