Short Cuts: 3 new Northland books include Adam Herman's latest

"Villa Leila" is subtitled "A Muddy Tale of Love and Monsters." Other new local titles include a Julie Gard poetry collection and a memoir about "Navigating Life After Loss."

White person's hand holding book: "Villa Leila" by Adam Herman, with cover illustration of Moroccan-style mansion.
Adam Herman's "Villa Leila" features a cover illustration by Samir Abukhodair.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Even as the Lake Superior Writers accept 2022 entries for the next Northeastern Minnesota Book Awards, new 2023 titles keep coming. A few notable titles have recently landed on my desk, including the latest novel by Duluth singer-songwriter Adam Herman.

Herman, who leads the Slamming Doors, previously published "Limbo: An Odd Novel" (2018). His new novel is called "Villa Leila," subtitled "A Muddy Tale of Love and Monsters." The mud comes from the story's river-town setting, inspired by Herman's Mississippi-adjacent upbringing.

Imagine if Robert Altman decided to try his hand at magical realism and you'll have some idea of the sprawling story's laconic tone. It involves a talking catfish, a wise drunk named Huckleberry Gary and a towering Moroccan-style mansion similar to the real-life Villa Kathrine in Quincy, Illinois.

If your summer vacation plans include any riverside time, "Villa Leila" will make an apt companion. (Of course, you could always read it by the lake, too.)

Duluth prose poet Julie Gard pointed out that her new collection "I Think I Know You" includes a piece titled "Duluth News Tribune," but since that poem seems inspired by the local news pages rather than the Lifestyle section, I decided there isn't a conflict of interest if I write about it.


White person's hand holding paperback book: "I Think I Know You" by Julie Gard. Cover features letterpress-style title text.
Julie Gard's "I Think I Know You" features a cover design by Stacie Renne.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

"I Think I Know You" is a turbulent collection of poems circling around the tragedies great and small that we must hold in our minds simply to exist in today's world. That world encompasses not just the Northland but far beyond, with several poems touching on Russia and Ukraine; Gard was formerly a Fulbright Graduate Fellow in Vladivostok.

The book closes with "Election Season," a 15-page poem exploring the exhaustion of the neverending news cycle. "I am overwhelmed by media," begins one line, "but this is not to blame the media." Thank you, we appreciate that.

Finally, Northwestern Wisconsin author Beth Probst is the author of "Now What? Navigating Life After Loss." It's a disarmingly frank memoir about the author's journey; she's coping with losses including both of her parents, most recently her father during the COVID-19 pandemic.

White person's hand holding book: "Now What? Navigating Life After Loss" by Beth Probst.
Beth Probst's "Now What? Navigating Life After Loss" features a cover by Brandi Craig.
Jay Gabler / Duluth News Tribune

The highly accessible book may help others navigate their own grief, but Probst doesn't pretend she's penned a self-help manual. "God help you if you compare your loss to the person next to you," she writes. One particular thread that may run between Probst's story and those of many readers: the frustrations of "navigating a broken health care system."

While disparate in style and substance, all three of these recent releases share themes of loss and connection, of the dialogue between a personal history and the community where that history unfolds. You can delve into each book as if it is, to borrow an image from "Villa Leila," a secret fishing hole.

For more information about these authors and their work, see, and

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; he's also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Minnesota Film Critics Alliance. You can reach him at or 218-279-5536.
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