Trying to Understand Life while on a Journey with Father Dan | Review of “Via Negativa” by Daniel Hornsby (2020) Alfred A. Knopf

Image linked from the publisher’s website

‘The Road-trip’ novel always has a special appeal to me. Usually we are dealing with a main character who is trying to overcome some sort of unmentionable action or event who is ‘on the road’ seeking either comfort or a new truth. There is something unique to the that archetype of the human condition, and Daniel Hornsby has added a unique take on that search when he sent protagonist Father Dan on a road trip in a Toyota Camry in the book Via Negativa.

Page 3 – Chapter 1

Somebody hit a coyote and I pulled over to the shoulder to take a look at it.

I’d watched it bounce off a minivan twenty yards ahead of me. A gold smudge. At first I thought it might have been a paper bag tossed out the window, or maybe an old T-shirt, until I saw its big yellow eyes and tail flopping around as it skittered onto the gravel, rolling like a stuntman on fire.

By the time I walked up to it on the shoulder, it was lying on its side, taking quick, shallow breaths and staring up past my head. One of its legs looked like it had an extra joint.

I reached out to touch it, and it didn’t bite. I ran my finger along its hind leg, and it didn’t move.

With a spare blanket from the trunk, I wrapped him up (I could now see he was male, for whatever that’s worth) then stuck him in the back seat, next to the bucket, the books, and my duffel bag.

There is something universal in the drifting tale of Father Dan. He had spent most of his life dedicated to providing what he believed comfort and good to people. But the conservative diocese he worked for found his ways eccentric and he is exiled and lost out in the world. But he is not alone. His travels encounter interesting people and odd places alone the way which find him reflecting on his beliefs, wants and memories. There is something unique in the travel of Father Dan that we readers are privileged to witness.

Page 19 Chapter 3

This morning, I gave the coyote a couple hours to recover without being bumped around the back seat. I to driving around nine.

I put in a Lorde CD once I got on the highway. A girl in one of the youth groups gave it to me when I told her what kind of music I liked. It’s a couple of years old, but I still enjoy it. My favorite singer, though, is Prince. I have five or six of his CDs crammed in the cubby behind the cup holders, along with a few other odds and ends: pens and pencils, a cigarette lighter, an old letter in a green envelope from a friend in Colorado. There is a real mystical theology to Prince, and I’m not being cheeky.

For breakfast I stopped at a Cracker Barrel in Effingham, Illinois. To my right sat a pack of men in camouflage, wolfing down biscuits and gray breakfast sausages. I sat at a table by myself, under a pair of snowshoes and a hatchet nailed to the wall.

Before I ordered, I went to the bathroom to wash my hands and make sure there wasn’t anything stuck in my beard. I’ve been working on growing a beard for a while now. I thought it might help me get into character. I’d always wanted to grow one when I was a pastor, but, owing to a barren stripe on my cheek, I could quite get there without looking ridiculous for a couple of patch weeks. Now I’ve plowed through this phase, with enough hair to fluff over the bald spot. I’m about halfway between a Francis and a Peter. Nothing quite Old Testament yet, still several months away from an Antony. Aside from a teal smudge of toothpaste, I looked okay.

There is something noble about the rambling journey Father Dan takes in this narrative. There are bits of insight about existence and profound questions raised about the world in this book. We know Father Dan is an enlightened individual who is on a journey of self discovery. Will he gain some further insight or will he become hurt through this trip? Will his memories reveal some dark element of his past? Readers feel like careful and helpless observers while following Father Dan’s journey with the hope the trip will end with some deep comfort and realizations for him. And those readers who follow his journey to the end will be given an important truth about the human condition.

Page 104 Chapter 11

The next morning, I packed my things and prepared to slip out of the house with as little fuss as possible. I wasn’t sure if Anna had mentioned my being down there with them or not, and I thought I might as well go before Martin had the chance to ask me about it.

I went to the kitchen to fill my water jug and found Martin, drinking a glass of orange juice. The halberd was there, too, leaning against the stove.

“I don’t know what all you heard last night. Me and the girl have been having trouble lately. It’s probably best if you just go.”

She hadn’t mentioned me.

I told him I’d seen a lot of messed-up families, and his was far from the worst. This seemed to cheer him up slightly. I was grateful the girl hadn’t ratted me out, but now I can see I was being a coward. I could have been a witness for her.

I am a coward, but you probably know that already.

Daniel Hornsby has taken readers on a unique journey of faith and the human condition with his novel Via Negativa. We boldly witness ‘Father Dan’ travel a long trip into the wilderness with his Toyota Camry and come out somewhat more enlightened at the other side. It is a bold book worth reading.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House’s website for Via Negativa

The Steps Before And After A Trauma – Review of “The Woman In Valencia” by Annie Perreault and Translated by Ann Marie Boulanger. To Be Released March 2021 by QC Fiction

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher.

Image linked from the publisher’s website

Traumatic events seem to occur during what should be unassuming moments. A windshield explodes on a drive to the grocery story. Massive chest pains occur while lifting a box down from the closet. A cough from a friend requires us to be rushed to hospital two weeks later. In The Woman in Valencia – written by Annie Perreault and translated by Ann Marie Boulanger – readers witness with Claire Halde a traumatic event during an unassuming moment while on vacation with her family in Valencia, Spain. And then readers witness the results of that quick event in the years that follow.

The prose in this book is smooth and quick. There are scenes that are set while a character is running and pondering at the same time. Here, the reader easily grasps the thoughts and the emotions of the person while sensing each footfall and each drop of sweat that is occurring. Empathy occurs quickly while reflections come to the forefront.

This was a quick read but certainly a remarkable one. It is a book that reflects the human condition well and makes us want to refer to other readers with glee. Well-crafted and thought-provoking, The Woman in Valencia, will certainly be a noted novel of the 2021 season.

****

The Woman In Valencia is scheduled to be released in March, 2021.

Link to QC Fiction’s website for The Woman In Valencia.

Carefully Considering Timothy Findley | Review of “Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley” (2020) Wilfred Laurier University Press

Image linked from the publisher’s website

Culture is suppose to a reflection of our reality. In having that reality reflected back at us, we are suppose to ponder and consider the means of our existence. The detailed writings of Timothy Findley always had a personal sense of history and meaning for me yet the true understanding of how brutally honest his work was unclear. Sherrill Grace has spent time looking at the journals and talking with Timothy Findley’s associates and her biography Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley, reflects not only the noble novelist’s writings but his bittersweet existence brilliantly.

Page 1 Introduction: Remembering Timothy Findley

I have returned to Stone Orchard, Timothy Findley’s home, many times over the years of research for this biography, each time learning more about the man who lived and wrote there, but one damp November day remains with me as only a first, impressive experience can. As I walked through the fields, surrounded by the scent of damp vegetation and fresh air – memory inhaled – I could situate Timothy Findley on this, for him, home ground, where he struggled against despair and experienced peace, joy, and great success. I remember that day well. It was 11 November 2011, spitting rain, chilly, with low grey clouds – my first visit to the farm called Stone Orchard, where Findley had lived for thirty years and where he wrote most of his fiction and plays. I knew how important landscape and place were to him and how necessary they were for the biography I would write, and no place was more significant to him than this home.

Many of us having been waiting for this book for a while now. I had first heard of it being prepared when Findley’s loving partner Bill Whitehead mentioned it during a reading of his own memoir at the public library in London, Canada many years ago. (Link to my review) I was one of many fans of Findlay’s there that evening who remember the night Findley came to the London to read from his novel Headhunter. In spite of having a horrid cold that evening, the basement auditorium where he read was filled with capacity. He may have sniffled his way through the reading but he still gave a sense that this was a very personal work for him. And any fan of Findley could relate to the assorted malaises in that book. Now with Grace’s biography, we can somewhat understand Findley’s motivation for writing Headhunter and understand ourselves and the world a bit better.

Page 337 – The Canadian Findley

If the reader hopes that the truth about the “fascination of the abomination” connecting Kurtz, the Park, and the Club will bring resolution or redemption, let alone restore safety and sanity to Toronto and to the victims of corruption and violence, he or she will be disappointed. Findley could not wring any hope let alone redemption, from his heart of darkness that is Toronto. What’s more, as Findley was at pains to stress, these forces are steadily undermining the social contract that supports civilization.

Although there are many interesting minor characters in Headhunter, each with his or her troubled backstory, Toronto itself is the most imposing character. Much more than a setting or a backdrop, the city is the dark heart of the novel; most of its characters merely inhabit its spaces while furthering its moral contamination. Her Findley explores his long hatred of cities and the corruption he felt was synonymous with them.”

I know I have said it often enough here but this book is one that should be truly savored. I have spent months quietly reading and reflecting on Grace’s detailed research and her documented travels to give insight into Findley’s life. I often and gleefully went back to my library and pulled out my copies of Findley’s novels because Grace noted a real-life connection to a situation to in one of his plots. The human condition needs to documented and review. Findlay was a popular writer because he did this and Grace has given wonderful insight into how Findlay did that in his works.

Pages 51-52 – Living with the Dead

Today we know that schizophrenia usually manifests itself in a person’s late teens or twenties, and perhaps (Findlay’s Aunt Ruth) did show early signs of being different, of seeing things differently from other people. Certainly Findley looked for such signs in trying to understand what happened to her. In another passage from Journeyman (85-86), he analyzes several photographs of his aunt in the effort to understand – to find – her: as a baby, she is “serious” and questioning: as a thirteen-year-old girl, she sits for her picture with “an almost alarming poise.” He sees that she is a beautiful girl, but he believes that she is hiding behind a mask because she has been lied to by her parents, her teachers, and society. In a 1917 picture, he thinks that her “mask is slipping,” and that “her mind wants out.” Ruth is now twenty-four: the Great War is still raging; the man she will marry is away fighting; and for days she listens, with dread, as her brother Alan gasps for breath in the iron long and finally dies. In a 1919 picture, the mask is “finally back in place,” but in Findlay’s reading of the woman in these photographs, Ruth has found an outlet for her mind and imagination; she has found a voice and a name. “‘I am Nicholas Fagan,’ the woman’s mind said and [so Findley imagined] the hand wrote.. ‘I have waited long enough for I have known and what I have seen to be matched by what I have been told.'”


The human condition needs to be explored and reflected upon. Timothy Findley made many of his fans of works do so. And Sherrill Grace has spent time and travel into reviewing and documenting both Findley’s works and his life. Her work Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley is a noble work that deserves to be carefully read and pondered upon.

Link to Wilfred Laurier University Press’ website for Tiff: A Life of Timothy Findley

Link to Sherrill Grace’s biography page at the University of British Columbia

An Enlightening Look at an Alternative History | Review of “The Good German” by Dennis Bock (2020) HarperCollins Canada

Cover image linked from the publisher’s website

We all have looked at our family members and their histories and wondered “What if . . ?” If Person X had not married Person Y? If that ancestor had not immigrated to that country? If that historical political action had better support would our lifestyle be better? Certainly the imagined outcomes would be favourable but is that realistic? Dennis Bock certainly unwinds the strings of history as we know it in his book The Good German and makes us ponder would other realities be so perfectly ideal.

Pages 41-42

In his own mind and heart Georg Elser was still an ordinary man on the day he entered the shipping department of the Waldenmaier armaments factory, eight years before Mercy House became his home. He was unremarkable to look at and to talk to, indistinguishable from the next man. Everything about his place of employment, too – the small office smelling of mouldy paper and routine – said as much. Stacks of files were pushed up against a grey wall, organized and ready for reference and review. The vague ring of an absent teacup marked a loose leaf of unsigned paper place squarely in the centre of his desk and beside it the ledger detailing last night’s scheduled deliveries and out going shipments awaited his attention.

More than ever he felt the repression and dread that presided over the small town he lived in the foothills of the Swabian Alps. He found it waiting for him in the morning when he woke; he carried it with him during the day; and at night it circled him in the dark when sleep would not come. It might have been the pity he felt for the men and women he saw every day on his way to the factory in Heidenheim, or in the rheumy eyes of the grandmothers he knelt beside in the church he visited in the evenings where he asked forgiveness for the direction his life was about to take him in. Prayer in his youth had been frequent, but it had been left off for decades, found again only recently. He was a man who spoke into the silence of his heart with the hope that something divine, some moral courage might reside there and guide him. He waited for signs of comradeship or rebellion, some hint of a resistance he could join, but saw none. He pored over broadsheet news bulletins, read the handbills that checkered the stone walls of the old town. And late into the night he listened to dizzying speeches on the wireless while he troubled through the intricacy of the plot that began to weave through his mind.

Bock is not the first writer to explore the concept of what would have happened to history if Adolf Hitler had been eliminated. One of his protagonists is real life attempted assassin Georg Elser. Bock has Elser succeed in his assassination of the dictator but instead of the world becoming a more normal place, a greater menace takes his place in the form of Hermann Goring. Goring, a much more skillful tactician and planner than what Hitler was, aids German development of an atomic bomb which is then dropped on London. The world political dynamic has changed for the worst and Elser regrets his decision to change history bitterly.

Pages 135-136

It was God’s mercy and quickly now, please. He was ready, her in this place he’d created with the killing of one monster that gave rise to another. He was responsible for all of this, his plan turned so viciously upside down, and he felt the hands of death begin to close upon him.

He sat there at the centre of his life, waiting.

The man who should have shot him holstered his sidearm and called out there was another one here, useless and blind as a stone.

Elser heard his footsteps moving off, and in a moment other men came and he was dragged over the broken cobble and hefted into the back of a truck.

This is a complex novel with deep thoughts and emotions. Bock covers one element of the human condition with the thoughts of the older Elser but he covers another element with another protagonist, the younger William Teufel. The book trades off each other’s life story well in this alternative history giving us insight to not only this new time line but making us consider our lives in the “original” timeline as well.

Pages 27-28

“Maybe you don’t want to know what our last name means in German,” he said.

“Maybe I do,” I said.

Silence fell between us, and he shone the flashlight under his chin again and snapped the setting from white to red.

“Teufel means devil,” he said.

Such pronouncements did not frighten me so terribly in the morning as they did at night, and though I learned that our family name did in fact mean in German what he aid it did, I chose to believe for as long as I could that we were no different from anyone else. No one had any reason to hate us. I couldn’t bear to think of the lonely future that Thomas had predicted for me. I decided that our name was just a sound that came out of your mouth. The childless couple on our street five doors up whom I waved to on occasion, and who always pretended not to see me, were not green, though we knew them as Mr. and Mrs. Green, and so by that same logic I assured myself that there was nothing of the devil in us at all.

Dennis Bock has given us readers an interesting and thought-provoking read with The Good German. The plot not only rewrites history but gives a personal perspective on life in that version of history. A read that certainly should not be raced through or taken lightly.

*****

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s website for The Good German

 

An Enlightening Tale From The Past to Become One of my Favourite Reads of 2020 | Review of “The Pull of The Stars” by Emma Donoghue (2020) Harper Avenue

Image linked from the publisher’s website

We have been vaulted inside to our homes to a forced reality. We would like to know what the world is like for those who still exist out there – who make our society still churn somehow -but we can’t. So master storyteller Emma Donoghue has gone back in time to tell us a tale that both endears and enlightens us readers with her novel The Pull of the Stars.

Page 7

I tried not to dwell on my patients between shifts since it wasn’t as if I could do a thing for them until I was back on the ward.

On a fence, specifics of a variety concert with CANCELLED stamped diagonally across them; an advertisement for the All-Ireland Hurling Finals, POSTPONED FOR THE DURATION pasted on it. So many shops shuttered now due to staff being laid low by the grippe, and offices with blinds drawn down or regretful notices nailed up. Many of the firms that were still open looked deserted to me, on the verge of failing for lack of custom. Dublin was a great mouth holed with missing teeth.

A waft of eucalyptus. the man to my left on the tram bench was pressing a soaked handkerchief over his nose and mouth. Some wore it on their scarves or coats these days. I used to like the woody fragrance before it came to mean fear. Not that I had any reason to shrink from a stranger’s sneeze, being immune now to this season’s awful strain of flu; there was a certain relief to having had my dose already.

A man’s explosive cough on the bench behind me. Then another. Hack, hack, a tree being axed with too small a blade. The mass of bodies leaned away. That ambiguous sound could be the start of the flu or a convalescent’s lingering symptom; it could signify the harmless common cold or be a nervous tic, caught like a yawn just by thinking about it. But at the moment this whole city was inclined to assume the worst, and no wonder.

Donohue and her publishers have rushed out to give the world this tale of Nurse Julia Power trying to deal with influenza pandemic set in Dublin in 1918. Yet this story isn’t rushed or hurried. Donohue’s skill of making readers empathized with a lead character shines through this story, giving us insight of not only telling us the era she documents but perhaps documenting our time as well. History does repeat itself and this book reflects that well.

Page 171

A student doctor was telling story about a man who’d presented himself at Admitting, convinced he had the grippe because his throat was closing up. The chap turned out to be sound as a bell – it was just fright.

The others sniggered tiredly.

But wasn’t panic as real as any symptom? I thought about the unseen force blocking my brother’s throat.

Our queue shuffled forward past the latest sign, which said, in strident capitals, IF I FAIL, HE DIES.

I ate my porridge standing up in the corner and couldn’t manage more than half the bowl.

It is a brilliant fact that Donohue has gone back in time to bring us this story which reflects our current situation. The protagonist – Nurse Julia Power – could be any medical practitioner dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic today. Power has her frustrations, fears, wants and desires and Donohue’s documentation here gives us readers insight and reflection to that element of the human condition in our time now.

Page 151

That jogged my memory – tomorrow was a holy day, so I supposed I should attend the vigil mass. But I didn’t have it in me; I was dead on my feet.

That flip phrase made me wince. My aching awareness of every muscle was so entirely unlike the blankness of death. I should be glad to have sore feet and a back that grumbled and fingers that stung at the tips.

Finally a passenger tram stopped; it was full but I pressed onto it with the others. People glared at us for crowding them further and some squirmed away in case we were contagious.

On the top deck I stood holding on to the balcony rail The same small notice had been pasted to the floor every two feet, I saw: SPIT SPREADS DEATH. One of them was already marked, derisively, with a spatter of smoky brown.

Strangers’ bodies weighed against mine. I pictured trams grinding along their lines across Dublin like blood through veins. “We all live in an unwalled city,” that was it. I saw lines scored across the map of Ireland; carved all over the globe. Train tracks, roads, shipping channels, a web of human traffic that connected all nations into one great suffering body.

Emma Donoghue has gone back into time to give us a story that truly reflects our era during this pandemic with her novel The Pull of the Stars. It is a story that is enlightening and endearing and is certainly one of my favourite reads of 2020.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for The Pull of the Stars

Link to Emma Donoghue’s website

When We Desire But Are Unable to Receive | Review of “Home Sickness” by Chih-Ying Lay – Translated by Darryl Sterk (2020) Linda Leith Publishing

Image linked from the publisher’s website

We all have a strong desire for comfort and beauty. Yet, in spite of our paths in life, the objects of comfort and beauty may not be achievable for us. Hence come our feelings of: loneliness, anger, heartache and confusion. These are complex and embarrassing emotions for us to deal with, but they are part of the human condition. And they are lyrically and poignantly explore in Chih-Ying Lay’s collection of short stories called Home Sickness.

Page 7 – Red Dragonfly

I cut into your arm. Your skin is crisp as paper, but still blotchy. The dark brown birthmark on your wrist is impossible to miss. How could I not recognize you?

I follow the brachial vein towards your wrist, where the tissue – a network of vessels and nerves – gets more and move convoluted. I remember you used to complain that you hand was short a few tendons, or shy else did you play the piano so clumsily for Sensei Lü?

Most of these stories are set in Taiwan but there a universal understanding to many of the situations that the author sets his protagonists’ into. Fear, heartache, loneliness, confusion, naivete, etc, broken apart by a few moments of joy and enlightenment make these stories a joy to read. And the prose is so lyrical and smooth that – even in translation – the book is smooth and pleasurable to engage with.

Pages 52-53 – Macaque Peach

On the way to the Rattan Branch Scenic Area, the discomfort in my left pec becomes unbearable. Thank God Jay is driving. I reach with my hand to try to find the source of my pain. I find the painful spot, but it is superficial, and localized. Massaging it in a circular motion causes the pain to go away. I am both relieved and worried. Relieved because there is probably nothing wrong with my heart, and I will at least be able to go hiking. But also worried because this does not bode well. Maybe the mosquito bite I scratched has gotten infected. It’s not like I have a real breast, so I don’t have to worry about every providing milk like a woman to her child, but what if my pec get infected or decays and has to be removed? Will I ever be able to swim again?

This trip is a celebration of the end of our lives as students. I managed somehow to survive the battle and finish graduate school, and Jay has graduated from medical school. At the end of July, he’ll go into reserve officer training. I had better luck. I just have to do twenty days in August and then I’ll be demobilized I am, after all practically blind. He is so jealous.

“Have you forgotten that time we went snorkelling on Orchid Island?” I asked. “You got to see the coral reef. All it did for me was bring me grief, because I had to get so close to see it that I crashed into it. You got to see a clown fish. I just got water up my nose.

Every time he complains I’ve got it better than him, I cite some inconvenient examples to make him shut up.

Each one of these stories has a deep and emotional connection to the universal human condition to them. They are not stories to be rushed through and forgotten about. They provide a bit of enlightenment and guidance to the careful reader. And may even provide a bit of comfort to a lonely individual who seeks to understand their situation better.

Page 111 – The Graduate

“Don’t try to find me, please. I don’t want to see you. HWL.” He would never read these words, or any of the letters you sent.

He wasn’t dead. But unbeknownst to you, he went back to America much later than you anticipated. You were in conflict over whether to send him the wedding invitation but sent it anyway. You kept practising the part of the girl in The Graduate. If at the last minute he’d burst into the church, you would have thrown yourself into his arms, no hesitation. Even if you had to crawl, dragging the veil behind you, you would have done it.

But it didn’t happen that way. You passed the time among friends and family. Your parents and Dr. Yang’s flew in from Taiwan. His parents didn’t understand their son’s decision, but all his brothers had gotten married and started careers, so they didn’t mind. Your mother expressed her gratitude to Dr. Yang with tears in her eyes, thanked him for repaying your tuition. She said she’d tie up loose ends in Taiwan and come to America to care for you. Come she did, not knowing you would send her off. She didn’t know what winter was. She went out in a shirt and pants after dark to shovel the front walk and hit her head when she fell into a snowbank.


Chih-Ying Lay has given us readers a brilliant collection of literature with his work Home Sickness . The stories are unique and emotional and certainly are enlightening. Definitely a collection worthy of reading and reading most carefully.

*****

Link to Linda Leith Publishing’s website for Home Sickness

“I wanted to write a story that showed the complexity of sexual violence, where in 80% of instances, the perpetrator is known to the victim.” | Q&A with author Lisa J. Lawrence on her book “Trail of Crumbs”

Image linked from the publisher’s website.

We are all injured by some sort of trauma at times. And the need to understand that trauma better links us to understanding the human condition better. Certainly now, as we are forced to isolate, we are pondering our angst and fears (and our desires) and considering the society around us. Lisa J. Lawrence certainly gave us readers a bit of serious enlightenment with her book Trail of Crumbs. She was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

*****

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline for “Trail of Crumbs?”

After moving into a dank and drafty basement suite in West Edmonton with her truck-driving father, nasty stepmother and taciturn twin brother, Ash, seventeen-year-old Greta doesn’t have high expectations for her last year of high school. When she blacks out at a party, she thinks things can’t get any worse. She’s wrong.

While Greta deals with the confusion and shame of what happened that night, her stepmother and father choose that moment to disappear, abandoning Ash and Greta to the mercy of their peculiar landlord, Elgin, who lives upstairs. Even as Greta struggles to make sense of what happened to her, she finds herself enjoying her new and very eccentric family, who provide the shelter and support that has long been absent from her life. Much to Greta’s surprise, she realizes there is still kindness in the world—and hope.

Trail of Crumbs is crossover fiction–appropriate for both young adult and adult readers.

2) How long did it take to write this book? Was there anything particular that inspired you to write the story of Greta?

I couldn’t write for a few months after my father died, and then I sat down and hammered out the first draft of Trail of Crumbs in about six months. There are a couple of things that influenced me in writing this story. One of them was wondering what the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel would look like in the twenty-first century, with its complex family dynamic. 

 The other major theme in this book, which deals with sexual violence, came to me several years ago after seeing a comic called “Trigger Warning: Breakfast.” It’s about a victim of sexual assault who tries to change the internal narrative about what happened to her to avoid looking at it as rape. “If I didn’t say no, it’s just a romance.” In hindsight, she also criticizes her own actions in the situation and wonders why she didn’t behave differently. (Check out the link here) This comic made me think of the stories people tell themselves in order to deal with trauma. A few years later, some high-profile celebrities were accused of sexual assault by multiple people. In the media, many tried to discredit the accusers because they didn’t speak up sooner, or didn’t behave in some imaginary textbook way after being assaulted. I wanted to write a story that showed the complexity of sexual violence, where in 80% of instances, the perpetrator is known to the victim.

3) The book seems to touch on some serious issues and situations. How have you found the reaction to it so far? Has the reactions to it been the same or different than “Rodent?”

Rodent dealt with alcoholism and a dysfunctional family dynamic between a mother and her children. Trail of Crumbs has some overlapping issues, such as strained family relationships and poverty, but the topic of sexual violence is unique to Trail of Crumbs. I have been fortunate that reviews for both books have been overwhelmingly positive. When discussing Trail of Crumbs, I have sensed a shyness or discomfort from others in broaching the topic of sexual violence. I feel people were more comfortable involving me in conversations and questions around addiction. That silence has surprised me a little.  

4) Have your family members read any of your works – especially any of you children. If yes, what has their reactions been to you works?

When Rodent first came out, my then-teenage son started ripping through it–(I was flattered)—until he hit the romantic aspect and came to a dead halt! I guess romance written by your mother is too much. My teenage daughter, an avid reader, read both while they were still in ARC form. My youngest isn’t old enough for these books yet, although she does always check for her name in the acknowledgements! My husband is more of a fantasy/science fiction reader, but he always reads my books. (Although, not before the rest of the world does. I am oddly private this way!).  I am fortunate that my family has always been very supportive of my writing.

5) You mentioned in my last Q&A that you were considering using Twitter more. It seems now that you are quite active on that platform now. Is that the case? Are you comfortable with fans networking with you on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to talk about you and your works?

Social media is not second nature to me, as it is to some people, and my introverted tendencies sometimes make me avoid the noise of social media. In short, I come and go! I have really enjoyed connecting with the writing community online, as well as with readers, teachers, librarians, etc. That is, by far, my favourite part about Twitter and Facebook.

7) Are you working on any new books right now? If yes, are there details about it you care to share?

I am—to my own surprise–working on a middle-grade novel right now. I’ll just say it involves confusion over a drawing of a pineapple and a few unlikely friends! It addresses some serious themes, but I would say it’s lighter and more quirky than my previous two books.

*****

Link to Orca Books website for Trail of Crumbs

Reflecting On The Fears In Our New Reality | Review of Mark Sampson’s Novel “All The Animals On Earth” (2020) Buckrider Books/Wolsak andWynn


Image linked from the publisher’s website

The reality we have found ourselves recently due to the Covid-19 outbreak has vaulted our minds into trying to deal with concerns and anxieties. With the news blaring in the background, we stare out from the windows – or from behind our masks – and wonder how we suppose to deal with the new world. And that is the type of reality that Mark Sampson has his protagonist Hector Thompson try to deal with with his new novel All The Animals On Earth.

Page 20“Part 1: The Accident”

Afterwards, I faced the drive home. The city seemed darker, more ominous, as I passed through the core of its concrete thoroughfares. I arrived back at our high-rise condo building and parked with jittery precision in out assigned space in the underground lot. Then I rode our elevator, a sleek and silent room of mirrors, up to our ninth-floor unit. Unlocking the door with my Google Watch, I stepped inside our huge, spacious domain. To the left of our front entry was our master bedroom, spare bedroom, bathroom. To the right, out den and the alcove for our washer-dryer. In front of me, out sunken living room, and beyond it, our large kitchen next to our dining area overlooking glass doors leading our balcony, which in turn overlooked the dull, grim skyline of out city and the lake beyond it, now hidden by the night.

Morgana was sitting on the couch in the living room watching TV, he face in profile to me. The jumping light from the screen cast silvery shimmers across her dark, kinky hair. She had a hand cupped to her mouth.

“I did it,” I said with exuberance. “I drove the car! Things got a bit dicey a four-way flash at Dufferin, but I perserv-“

She turned to me then, and I could see that her eyes were full of horror.

“Morgana, what is it?”

She extended her hand in a gesture that said, Come sit with me. Which I did. We turned and faced the TV together.

 

Sampson has this perfect gift of taking elements of the human condition and weaving them into a narrative that is both enjoyable and enlightening to read. And reading this book during this time is comforting. “A lot of people, especially here in the so-called “West,” are dealing with things they’ve never had to deal with before – not being able to go wherever they want, facing empty supermarket shelves, living with fear for their safety on a daily basis. (Others, obviously, have experienced these things every moment of their lives)” he told me in a Q&A last spring as this book went to press. The story surrounds Hector Thompson, a quiet and happily-married human resources manager for a small insurance firm. He is content with his life and his existence and any disruption brings him discomfort. (“When I was working as a journalist in Australia 15 years ago, I did have, as my “beat,”  the topic of human resources, industrial relations, and occupational health and safety. So I spent a lot of time interviewing HR managers back then, talking to them about hiring, firing, talent retention, benefits and compensation, plus awkward conversations they often need to have with staff about wardrobe choices and personal hygiene, etc,” Sampson told me in the same Q&A) So when the television starts burbling about ‘pullution’ turning the animals of the world into ‘blomers’ – sentient beings with some human traits but still retain some of their original animalistic wants and characteristics – Thompson is vaulted into a realm of unease and discomfort that perfectly reflects our times.


Pages 68-69

The blomers were changing out society, there was no doubt about that now. It wasn’t just the way we had all normalized their (very) public acts of carnality. Nor was it the ubiquitous sight of their exaggerated features we’d spot on every street corner and in every subway car, the broad brows and bad teeth, the thick fleshy hands that reached out for ours in rehearsed politeness. It wasn’t just the hawks who had penetrated the upper echelons every night on TV, or the dogs who filled our skylines (and, now, our suburbs and farm fields) with condo and office towers. No. Changes in mentality were everywhere, too. We vips could not escape them. We could not flee from their designs for us, the way they seemed to erupt out of the very ground we walked on. Every headline in the paper or on the web jolted us in shock. Every minute of CNN felt like it introduced a new fresh hell.

This book is a perfect mixture of humor and stark emotion to make it an enlightening read which reflects our times right now. Reading it – and turning off the TV and the Internet – feels like it gives a bit of perspective to our situation right now. We are not alone with our fears and dreads and if Hector Thompson can deal with his changes in his rushed reality, perhaps we can too.

Pages 149-150

When you’re as obsessive as I am, it’s very hard to let things go.

I knew I needed a break. I knew I was, as Brennan Prate had put it, dropping balls. I was losing my grip. I also knew that this place wouldn’t necessarily fall apart without me. With whole squads of chickens and goats (not to mention two cats and a pigeon, God bless her taut, analytical mind) working under me, the Human Resources – check that, Human Capital – Department would not collapse if I took a short sabbatical from the company. But it was very hard to let things go. It was hard to admit that I had a problem, that something fundamental about me had changed. I wasn’t normally a bitter person. I rarely dwelled in the darker corners of human nature. But every time my mind conjured images of that dying gopher, that herm, clasping their quavering, blood-damp hand to mine as they took their final breaths, I would grow overcome with acrimony. I would see my blomer colleagues as the potential murderers they were and my fellow vips as the accomplices who blithely ignored it all. It felt as if the entire structure of this post-pullulation reality, what everyone had come to accept, needed to be torn down, but I also felt powerless, utterly impotent, to do it myself.

Mark Sampson has once again created a brilliant piece of literature with his novel All The Animals on Earth. The story truly reflects the fears and the angst of this time during Covid-19, giving us something truly something note and think about.

*****

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s webpage for All The Animals on Earth

Link to Mark Sampson’s blog Free RangeReading

Trying to Escape from One’s Own Reality | Review of “Tatouine” by Jean-Christophe Réhel. Translated by Katherine Hastings &Peter McCambridge (2020) QC Fiction

Image linked from the publisher’s website

I received an Advance Reading Copy of this book from the publisher. Tatouine will be released in September, 2020.

We all find ourselves lost in our dreams and fantasies when the reality we exist in gives grief and heartache. We turn to the story lines of other cultural products – TV shows, movies, books, – to imagine a better existence for ourselves. In some cases that is helpful and in other it is harmful escapism. And that is the world we witness with Jean-Christophe Réhel’s unnamed character in the novel Tatouine .

“I should come up with the ideal planet, just for me. I’d call it Tatouine, almost the same as the real one, but just different enough. This planet really is my soul mate. It could be my totem. My star sign. I don’t wan to be a Taurus any longer; I want to be a Tatouine.”

There is something ‘novel’ about this slice of existence that Rehel has shown us with this character in this book. We witness him travel through hospitals, low-paying jobs, odd living arrangements, bad alcohol and even a vomit-filled Christmas celebration where he embarrasses family and friends. But in this well-phrased slice of existence, Rehel has documented a reality of the human condition, where one is dreaming is of a more noble existence but unable to climb to that reality.

“My nose starts bleeding, both nostrils at once. It’s never happened to me before. I’m dying, clearly. I pinch my nose and run out to the desk. An orderly spots me making my way down the hall and tells me I’m not allowed out. “Sir! You’re in isolation , sir!” “Yo, my nose is bleeding!” I’ve never said “yo” in my life. It sounds completely absurd; it must be the stress. I keep heading for the desk. I hear the woman shout, ‘You have to go back to your room, sir!’ I’m still pressing down hard on my nostrils, but the blood keeps coming. It’s getting everywhere. I’m leaving a trail behind me. I want to die. Where are the sharks?

There is a unique and sometimes funny take on an element of the human condition in Jean-Christophe Réhel’s novel Tatouine. It is a light read but one that is memorable. And it is certainly one of my favourites of this year.

*****

Link to QC Fiction’s website for Tatouine

“As a German-Canadian kid, I was painfully aware of what had happened in Europe in the thirties and forties, and that, in a way that I couldn’t understand but nonetheless accepted, I was expected to bear some of the responsibility for those crimes.” | Q&A with novelist Dennis Bock on his upcoming novel “The Good German.”

Image linked from the publisher’s website

We have all considered the phrase “What if” while reading the pages of history. “What if” situation never happened. “What if” person X had never been born. “What if” that device had never been invented. But that question doesn’t only apply when we look at the history books, but to our family photo albums as well. Talented novelist Dennis Bock has taken a look at both books in his possession and has written The Good German (which is due out later this year.) Bock was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Good German.”

1) The outline, as it appears on the jacket: 

In November 1939, a German anti-fascist named Georg Elser came as close to assassinating Adolf Hitler as anyone ever had. In this gripping novel of alternate history, he doesn’t just come close—he succeeds. But he could never have imagined the terrible consequences that would follow from this act of heroism. 

Hermann Göring, masterful strategist, assumes the Chancellery and quickly signs a non-aggression treaty with the isolationist president Joseph Kennedy that will keep America out of the war that is about to engulf Europe. Göring rushes the German scientific community into developing the atomic bomb, and in August 1944, this devastating new weapon is tested on the English capital. London lies in ruins. The war is over, fascism prevails in Europe, and Canada, the Commonwealth holdout in the Americas, suffers on as a client state of the Soviet Union. Georg Elser, blinded in the A-bombing of London, is shipped to Canada and quarantined in a hospice near Toronto called Mercy House. Here we meet William Teufel, a German-Canadian boy who in the summer of 1960 devises a plan that he hopes will distance himself from his German heritage and, unwittingly, brings him face to face with the man whose astonishing act of heroism twenty-one years earlier set the world on its terrifying new path.

2) I have seen comparisons of this book to Philip Roth’s “The Plot Against America” and Philip K. Dick’s “The High Castle” Were those books influential in writing this work or were there other reasons?

There are lots of books and images and ideas that creep into the creative process without the creator being aware of those influences. So I imagine those novels were important in the creative process. What I am aware of are the other forces that pushed me into writing this novel–namely, my own heritage and memories of growing up in south-western Ontario in the seventies. As a German-Canadian kid, I was painfully aware of what had happened in Europe in the thirties and forties, and that, in a way that I couldn’t understand but nonetheless accepted, I was expected to bear some of the responsibility for those crimes. Generational guilt. Guilt by association. That’s what I was interested in exploring in The Good German. At its heart, this is a novel about prejudice and our need to break out of the prisons that are our cultural, historical and societal boxes and to redefine ourselves as individuals independent of class and race and history. The novel’s protagonist, a Canadian kid with German parents, not only feels that guilt by association for the crimes committed during the war–but for the fact that the Germans, in this torqued world, won the damn war. Which of course got me to wondering how on earth that could have panned out. That’s how I found Georg Elser, the anti-fascist who, in actual history, missed killing Hitler by a mere thirteen minutes. In my novel, those thirteen minutes don’t occur. He succeeds.

3) According to the School of Continuing Studies at the University of Toronto’s website (where you are listed as an instructor in Creative Writing)  you have four previous novels published. (Let me know if I am missing any: Olympia, The Ash Garden, The Communist’s Daughter, and Going Home Again) Has your writing changed since your first book? If so, how?


Hopefully my writing is getting better and better, in terms of style, craft, and artistic vision. Who knows? We’ll let others be the judge of that. But it’s true that most writers are interested in developing a specific number of ideas and themes in their work. That seems to be consistent for me. Heritage. How does one lead an ethical life. The uneasy balance between the ego and moral responsibility. The pressures of society put upon the individual. These are interesting questions for me. 

4) Your biographies have you listed as teaching creative writing at both U of T and at Humber College. Does teaching how to write help you writing? Have any of your students had any of their works published?


Quite a few writers have come through my courses and ended up writing good books and getting them published, but certainly not because of me but because they are talented people. Ann Y.K. Choi. Arif Anwar. Siobhan Jamison. Bianca Marais, to name but a few. But I don’t think that good writing can be taught. That has to be learned by the individual through her contact with the great books she reads and the thousands of hours she has to put into writing failed poems and stories and novels. That’s the only way to learn to write a good paragraph, in my opinion. What I do in my courses is focus on the craft issues. Craft issues can certainly be taught. How to write a good scene; the importance of narrative summary; how to avoid wooden dialogue; how to use structure to your advantage. What we look for in solid characterization. We talk a lot about stuff like that.

5) You do seem to be active on all the main social-media platforms. Do you use those platforms to connect with the readers of your works? 


I’m a baby when it comes to social media. I’m out there, but in a pretty basic way.

6) Do you do much public readings of your works? Should social distancing be no longer required to occur, will you have much of a reading schedule with this book?


We really don’t know what’s going to happen re public readings at this point. The pandemic has thrown all of us a curve ball. We’ll have to see.


7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there any details you care to share?


I usually like to take a bit of time off between novels and pursue various other projects. 

*****

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s website for “The Good German.”