Monthly Archives: July 2014

The New World and the Young | Review of “Planet Lolita” by Charles Foran (2014) HarperCollins Publishers

PlanetI have often wondered how progressive – if at all – the social-media platforms are to human society. The concept of posting quickly something for all the world to judge before even giving some thought to what exactly we are doing is a frightening one. And that is one of the brilliant concepts that Charles Foran explores in his novel Planet Lolita.

Page 17

Fifteen silent minutes later, climbing the slope, Mom finally spit out her complaint. “You told them your name?” she said to me.

“Look,” Dad said.

Tai Long Wan lay half in sunlight, half still in shade. It was perfect, the most beautiful, secluded strand in Hong Kong. Three speedboats the size of plastic toys had rounded the headland and were ripping seams in the ocean. They slowed nearing the shore, their engines the faint growls of dogs letting you know they’ll attack if you don’t back off.

“Come to collect their cargo,” he said.

“Their property, more like it.”

“We’re off the beach, Leah. Our tracks will have dissolved by mid-morning.”

“You told them your name?” she said again.

Friend me, Mary, I said to myself. I’ll accept. And made the Asian-girl wave, in plain sight of both parents, although there was no hope she could see it from so far away.

Foran has created an interesting plot around his teenage protagonist Xixi Kwok. While camping on a beach outside Hong Kong, she and her parents witness a group of strange women washing ashore. Xixi tries to friend one of them (whom she refers as Mary) and photographs her with her cell phone. Later on Xixi tries to find Mary online – thinking she needs help – and gets herself in trouble.

Page 61-62

A Google image search of “Mary, Tai Long Wan” opened onto a row of the third photo I had uploaded from my iPhone nine days ago. Was the image that dirty? Did a pretend-pouty expression and a real wet dress turn Mary into porn? I remember her posing on the beach, the hat reversed to hide the pins. It was fun. I’d felt happier at that moment than at any time, pretty much, since Rachel went away. I couldn’t get my sister back unto next spring, at the earliest – she’d already ruled out a Christmas visit, preferring to mooch off the grandparents in Richmond Hill – but maybe I could hang with Mary instead? At least we were in the same city.

I clicked onto each of the photos. One linked to a travel agency specializing in Asian beach holidays. Another site sold sun hats offering to ship them for free anywhere in the world. The third, prettyasiangirls.com, showed a high school yearbook of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Filipino teenagers, most in school uniforms. Girls volunteered their photos for posting including a few who went to East Island. The fourth click too me to datingasiangirls.org, which claimed to be “the best singles bar on the web.” After that was a link to teenagepussy.com. It uploaded a blue screen with WARNING: ADULT CONTENT and a request that the viewer confirm he or she was eighteen.  My final click on the photo led to the URL exploitedasianteens.com, a title I couldn’t decipher for a second – exploited, Asian, and teens. This website gave no warning and asked no one’s age. Instantly I was staring at naked girls having sex with men, sometimes tow of them, or with other girls, and framed in the middle was a still from a video titled Three Dicks for a Filipino Chick that lasted 21:40 and had been awarded four stars out of five. Several minutes passed before I clicked the X on my toolbar and shut it down. My eyes stayed open the entire time.

Other reviewers have complained that this plot is too disjointed or too nonlinear making the story hard to follow but I have to disagree. Foran displays the mind of a 15-year-old teenager well by writing in this story in this style. Xixi life is bombarded by text messages and digital signals that her thoughts are random and bounced around. Adding to her distractions is the impending collapse of her parents marriage and the spread of a infectious disease around  Hong Kong and the stress of Xixi is clearly pulling her mind in different directions.

Page 134-135

“Our daughter said those things?”

     “Technically, she texted them. Sorry, Xixi,” Dad said. “Sorry to be doing this in front of you.”

   Me (to him): Better than me hiding in Rachel’s old room

   Checking his screen, he nodded, his smile closer to a wince. Dad sat on one couch, Mom on the other. In between them I curled in an armchair, chin on my knees.

“Am I fuckable yet?” Mom said, quoting the text I had sent to Rachel. ” And then you asked Gloria how many holes you have for sex?”

   Me (to her): Rachel told you? Gloria told you?

   Her phone buzzed.

   “There’s no chance I will read your message with you sitting right here. I see you texting it! You’re not invisible.”

   Me (to her): I thought I was

   “Sarah!” she said, ignoring the incoming texts. “Are you truly still not getting it, darling? The implications of the video sent to my iPhone earlier this morning are terrifying. These people are now stalking you, and threatening to abduct you if you won’t stop. I had no choice but to involve the police. Even your father, who would much prefer to keep his head in the sand, or  elsewhere agrees. Right, Jacob?”

   Me (to her): Why stay with him, if he’s such a jerk?

   “Give me that phone,” Mom added.

I am a firm believer that Planet Lolita by Charles Foran must be read and savoured in a print format. Foran has documented well the confusing circumstances of the human condition in the digital age in this book and by carefully read it do we grasp the situation around us.

Link to Charles Foran’s WordPress site

Link to HarperCollins Canada Page for Planet Lolita

Tasting the Flavour of the Delta Mud | Review of “Music of the Swamp” by Lewis Nordan (1991) Algonquin Books

Nordan_MusicOfTheSwamp_jkt_rgb_web_HRI received a copy of this book via a promotion on Librarything.com

Childhood is suppose to be this special magical time for us but in many cases it is not. When we need heroes we are provided with fools. When we need shelter to grow up in, we are given rotting walls instead. And when we need friends to play with, we are sickly playmates who are dealing with worse situations than we are. That is the reality that Lewis Nordan documented in his book Music of the Swamp.

Music of the Swamp – page 3

The instant Sugar Mecklin opened his eyes on that Sunday morning, he believed that this was a special day and that something new and completely different from anything he had ever known before was about to jump out at him from somewhere unexpected, a willow shade, a beehive, a bird’s nest, the bream beds in Roebuck Lake, a watermelon patch, the bray of the iceman’s mule, the cry of herons in the swamp, he did not know from where, but wherever it came from he believed it would be transforming, it would open up worlds to him that before today had been closed. In fact, worlds seemed to be opening to him.

Nordan descriptions around the life of Sugar Mecklin are vivid. We can sense what Sugar is feeling and seeing quickly with the words he crafted around his protagonist’s life. And the story can be both funny and heartbreaking within reading a few paragraphs.

A Hank of Hair, A Piece of BonePage 67

I watched my father and mother dance in the dim light of the dance floor, the only two dancers that night, and I fell in love with both of them, their despair and their fear and also their strange destructive love for each other and for some music I was growing old enough to hear, that I heard every day in the memory of the woman in her private grave. My father was Fred Astaire, he was so graceful, and my mother  – though before this night I had seen her only as a creature in a frayed bathrobe standing in the unholy light of my father’s drinking – she was an angel on the dance floor. The simple cotton dress that she wore was flowing silk – or was it red velvet?  – and her sensible shoes were pointed-toed leather slippers with a silk boot. I understood, seeing them, why they continued in their mutual misery. Who can say it was not true love, no matter how terrible?

There is a clear impression of a melancholy frame of mind here. Nordan explores the state of mind of a sensitive boy who sees the sadness in his world and knows there is nothing he can do about it. It is a well-written collection of vignettes of a boy’s life growing up in the Delta.

The Cellar of Runt Conroy –  Page 103-104

It was a good night for me to spend the night away from home. A steady rain had begun to fall and the clouds were dark and as low as the cottonwood trees in the bare grassless yard. Roy Dale and I sat alone in his room and played cards with a greasy deck of Bicycles and listened to the rain in the trees and on the roof and heard it puddle up in the yard. Life in the Conroy family went on and rarely touched the two of us. Supper was never mentioned, and my stomach gnawed on its own emptiness. It felt good to be hungry and to expect no food to relieve the hunger. It was easy to pay the small price of a night’s hunger for the sweet isolation that Roy Dale and I were allowed to share. It frightened me to enjoy these moments with a white-trash child who, until now, I had believed was put upon earth only for my manipulation.

This edition of the book also includes a section where Nordan talks about his childhood and his fiction. It is interesting to read his thoughts about the connection (he passed in 2012) as he tried to come to terms with both items.

The Invention of Sugar – An Essay about Life in Fiction – and Vice Versa – Page 205

And yet I began by saying that these fictions are so much a part of me that I scarcely know which are true and which are not. many times I have claimed that my stories were autobiographical in detail when most assuredly they were not. I wasn’t lying. I thought these things happened to me. I thought I jumped on a freight train and rode many miles. I thought I fished for chickens. I thought I was given a funny sex education lecture. But to imagine that written down stories are somehow history as well is not so surprising, I think. It’s easy enough to believe that an author lives with characters for a while and then takes them on in the way an actor takes on a role he or she is playing. There is nothing so amazing about this.

Lewis Nordan crafted a gritty reality of childhood in Music of the Swamp. It is a stunning read and one that is hard to forget. I will be reading more of his work for sure.

Link to Algonquin Books page for Music of the Swamp

“When any kind of art is at its best it is often compared to poetry” | Q&A with poet Souvankham Thammavongsa

Souvankham Thammavongsa has written three poetry books, the most recent of which is Light (Link to my review) which won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry. Her work is known for being insightful and brilliant. She recently answered a few questions for me via email.

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1. I know that your poetry works have won several awards but what has been the reaction to your writing by the reading public in general? Any memorable incidents you care to share?

I don’t think a lot of people know of me. I think most of the people who read my books bought copies before I won anything. They are mostly my close friends and family. Some have traveled with my books or keep them on the bedside table. Some have gone back to reread all three of my books. I can’t say anything about the reading public in general. I don’t know them. One memorable incident that happened recently, with the Trillium prize, was my father emailed me. He never emails me. I like that he didn’t use any exclamation marks or periods. Each thought is a line:

Congratulations

You my Heart

This is your way, I love it

2. Why do you use poetry to write? Is it a preferred means of communication for you?

When any kind of art is at its best it is often compared to poetry. That is to say, it isn’t poetry but it is close. I want to make something that isn’t close to poetry but actually is.

3. Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

There are so many. Right now, I am reading Wilt Chamberlain’s autobiography. It’s hilarious, intimate, honest, entertaining. He knew James Baldwin! I like it when athletes know poets. It reminds me of a photo of Marianne Moore and Muhammad Ali. Just wonderful.

4. How do you like doing public readings of your works? Is it something you enjoy or hate? Have any of your works been the subject of any book clubs? If yes – what was that experience for you?

It depends. I don’t like to do readings in bars or on a public street. I don’t like to do readings that happen after 9pm or lasts more than twenty minutes. I don’t like to do any readings without a microphone because I have to work harder to draw people in. I don’t like it when people are just walking by, coming in and out, eating, talking. I like it when the audience is really big like in a theatre setting. The ones who hold their breath when you read. Those readings are my favourite ones. I don’t know if my books have been the subject of any book clubs. I do know that they’ve appeared on syllabi of a few English literature classes since the professors have invited me to speak to the class. After class, they all line up and ask me to sign their copies. Some of their copies are beaten up or barely broken into. My favourite experience has been with my new book, Light. What the students don’t see, that I see, when I read from the book, is how their faces light up from the orange in the book. It’s so beautiful. It’s like a little gift the designer, Zab Hobart, gave me that no one knows but me and her.

5. I recently met a poet who lamented that many people are disappointed that her work doesn’t “rhyme”  Do you find that poetry has a stereotypical image that may be keeping readers away?

That poetry is hard and that should be a reason not to go to it. Sometimes difficulty, the thinking through and inside and around that difficulty, is a wonderful experience. People are fickle and don’t always know what they want. Who cares that it doesn’t rhyme. She doesn’t have to carry the responsibility of that. I would say, there are so many poems that rhyme, go find the writers who do that! It’s a lot like readers who are disappointed that I don’t write about lotus flowers or about my “own country” or in “my own language” or wear a kimono. They don’t even know how that stereotype can keep a writer away or how limiting. There are also readers who say, “You can’t do that for living,” and still buy my books anyway.

6. Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?

I am putting together a collection of short stories and have been writing a memoir about my childhood. I’m really interested in laughter. There is so much happening when people are laughing. The thing I’m working on right now is funny.

7. Your presence on the internet seems to be limited to Facebook. Does the internet play any role in helping or hindering your writing?

With what there is, I think there is too much available. More than I am comfortable with. I mean there is a poem I wrote when I was sixteen out there! I enjoy liking things on Facebook. I like to see the baby pictures of friends and to hear about what’s going on in their lives, where they’ve traveled, their weddings. I feel I get to know people in ways they want to be known or don’t know. I can begin somewhere with someone. I can sometimes get too self-contained and absorbed and mean so Facebook helps me get out of that. I get to meet and connect with people I never would be able to find on my own. When people like things they are very vocal about it and share it. But then, they are like that with what they don’t like too. I think the internet is fun and entertaining but when I actually write it has nothing to do with the actual writing. Writing is actual writing. The actual letters, the shape—there’s no room for anything else.

8. Has your writing changed since you started being published? If yes, how so?

This is a difficult question. I think my writing has been the same but who I am has changed. There has been a lot of time in between each of my books. A lot can happen in that kind of time. That’s the difference in each of my books—the happening to me. Some things I started with I care to be still. I care that all my books are beautifully designed and with the content in mind. I want each of my books to be self-contained works. I want the language to be simple and clean and clear.

*****

Link to Souvankham Thammavongsa’s website

Link to Pedlar’s Press website

Awakening the Mind’s Eye | Review of “Thin Moon Psalm” by Sheri Benning (2007) Brick Books

It is amazing how a small number of words read can bring memories flashing to the mind’s eye. Forgotten feelings and emotions – however small – gush back to one’s perception by a merely well-crafted phrase. That is what happened to me when I read Sheri Benning’s Thin Moon Psalm.

What Passes Through (Page 15)

November sky: a mouth

that has smoked too much for years. Cold

that could make you bleed, thin

whistle of sun.

Running on scabbed ice. Poplar death,

familiar smell of what passes through dark:

menses  breath  sweat.

That time of day when the membrane

that keeps us separate begins

to fray – sudden rip of the heart,

wolf-flick on the back of the eye.

Errata? Look again. Only the sky’s

gaunt skin, but I saw something.

Something that tugs flesh

toward the moon.

 

For those of us who grew up in rural settings, we recall special moments being surrounded in nature. Benning’s words illuminate those settings with a vivid grace.

Wolverine Creek (Excerpt) page 67

 

Fall. When scraped fields

show us the empty-

cathedral air inside

 

Shrew sounds of leaves,

bleeding at a pace the eye can’t hold.

As a child standing in willow kindle,

 

grasses the yellow of grandma’s dying

arms, watching geese harrow a sky made

more blue by the radiance of decay,

Benning is also able to put into words those feelings of regret and worry that many of us have due to our passions. Again her vivid imagery comes through with clarity in the mind’s eye.

The colour of (Excerpt) page 51

 

The shameless meandering of leaves, the colour of

some slow jazz trumpet, of yeah-I-loved-you-so-

what-ness. A half-step off, semitone descent.

 

Somewhere someone is desperately in love with you.

He’s trying to slough the shiver of loss with manual labour.

He’s painting houses and with every brush stroke he is stabbed

by a memory of the thinnest blue song.

 

Benning is also able to describe an individual with a few simple phrases that flashes recognition to so many people in our lives.

Nocturne (Excerpt) Page 64

 

His voice-

whisky leaves of dusk

birch, cigarette smoke,

an e minor guitar chord.

Caressing the night-

lake, breath and

call of a loon.

 

Sheri Benning’s Thin Moon Psalm is a brilliant collection of poetry that flashes memories instantly into the mind’s eye. A perfect piece of literature.

Link to Brick Book’s page for Thin Moon Psalm

 

Who couldn’t love a story filled with whimsy and a tortoise | Review of “Come, Thou Tortoise” by Jessica Grant (2009) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

We all have had those days where our minds are somewhat befuddled. We see connections in life that no one else sees and we desperately try to explain to others what we see but only our pets seem to understand us. It sounds confusing when we look at that state we find ourselves in but it exists. And that is the state we find the protagonist Audrey Flowers in as we read Jessica Grant’s Come, Thou Tortoise.

Page 4-5

Winnifred is old. She might be three hundred. She came with the apartment. The previous tenant, a rock climber named Cliff, was about to embark on a rock climbing adventure that would not have been much fun for Winnifred. Back then her name was Iris. Cliff had inherited Iris from the tenant before him. Nobody knew how old Iris was or where she had come from originally. Now Cliff was moving out. He said, Would you like a tortoise.

I would not say no to a tortoise.

I was alone in Portland and the trees were giant. I picked her up and she blinked at me with her upside-down eyelids. I felt instantly calm. He eyes were soft brown. Her skin felt like an old elbow. I will build you a castle, I whispered. With a pool. And I was true to my word.

This book was on my periphery for a while but it wasn’t until I read Grant’s short story (Brute – Link to my review) in the Summer Reading Edition of The Walrus magazine that I finally picked it up. And I am glad I did. Grant has written a wonderful story of person with a unique perspective trying to deal with an important change in their life.

Page 45

Here is something to do if you are unslept and have a ponytail: Bring that ponytail around under your nose like a moustache. This will calm you down and make you sleepy. Also it will force you to let go of the table. Where I have been sitting since Uncle Thoby went downstairs to bed.

See you anon, he said.

I had forgotten the word anon.

The SWAT team might still come, I said.

He creaked down the basement steps. Go to bed, sweetheart.

I nodded. Instead I went to table. Drummed my fingers. Eventually stopped drumming and started holding. Forced myself to stop holding.

Hey. My ponytail smells like Air Canada.

 

This is a story of a journey filled with whimsy. Audrey tries hard to deal with the situations around her but somehow things get confusing at times. And the people around her are in many cases are baffled by her. But there are heartwarming moments too. And the moments that her beloved turtle Winnifred (so spelled with two Ns) comes into view to give her perspective are just as equally heartwarming.

Page 155

My name is still Winnifred. Chuck has not changed it. The Willamette, I have discovered, is a river. Of course I knew that. I remember seeing said river from the dashboard at least one occasion. We crossed a bridge. Look, Win. The Willamette. Right. The Willamette pays tribute to the Columberer, which lumbers wider and gentler than that chasmic business beneath the bridge.

The other day Linda said there was a movie about loan sharks being filmed on the Willamette and why didn’t Chuck go down and see about being an extra. Which word, extra, was like a red flag to a bull. Chuck is no extra.

Linda the Unkempt said she’d seen people firing soundless guns on the bridge. Pretty cool.

Chuck was unimpressed. He said the gun soundtrack came later.

But return to the Willamette. Now that I know it’s a river, Chuck’s frequent remark, that it looks inviting – what does that mean exactly. He holds me up to the window and faintly, yes, I can see a bridge in the distance.

As I recall it was a long way down to the river from the bridge.  A long way. Also, apparently there are sharks in it.

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant is a heartwarming bit of whimsy for a summer read. Not to heavy but still bright enough to enrich a mind.

 

Link to Random House Canada’s page for Come, Thou Tortoise

 

 

 

Relating to Nature | Review of Marianne Bluger’s “Gathering Wild” (1987) Brick Books

Marianne Bluger had a great insight into looking at nature and contrasting them with her feelings. Her ability to craft a collection of words into emotions that the mind’s eye can interpret was a wondering gift. And her collection of poems in Gathering Wild shows the wonderful gift she had.

 

In Early Summer – Page 15

Turn, I turn

and turn but

you are gone;

shifting greens

hide every contour

clear in spring.

Wind strikes the thickset

lush, flutters

slight deceptions

and departs-

but it isn’t you

and one of us is lost.

Bluger spoke volumes in this small volume. Her words are enlightening to read and reread.

The Spinster Settler’s Song (Page 28)

I’ve banked logs in the grate for night

but fury nearing like a blood-raged hound

cracks and sparks amber, smoulders, rages,

a burning peril underground.

At the edge of the primal wood I live,

a bony woman, a lonely life,

the mules in the shed, a hoe, an axe,

a silver pen, my father’s knife.

They know me at the crossing for

my learning, and my sullen way.

I keep a shotgun by the bed;

I teach their children how to pray.

The sharp smoke lately on the wind

is dangerous, and yet I swear

no place on earth was ever freer

of all the links men forge in fire.

 

Taking the time to find a quiet corner and pondering these phrases is a wonderful treat.

Gathering Wild (page 40)

 

It’s beginning to rain on the river.

In all the city the only news

is drops hitting water pflick, pflick,  . . .

 

I never before have come to this

dock at the end of things

where shame took him off

on the barge of grief.

 

He breathes in my lungs

as though he had never left,

and the rain chills my skin

because our blood was warm.

 

Over rocks in my flimsy shoes

I move down

to the water’s edge, the lapping rim

 

listening: wind’s in the reeds-

pathetic (and false I suppose)

to think is sighs for us.

 

But we were like saplings-

our leaves would just touch

as we rustled, and o

we were pure.

 

Gathering Wild is an insightful and emotional collection of well-crafted poetry. It was a pleasure to read.

Link to Brick Books page for Gathering Wild

 

Trying to Figure out Where we are | Review of “Bearings” by Rhonda Batchelor (1985) Brick Books

Trying to figure out where we are either on a map or in our station in life can be a daunting task. Have we made all the right turns and are we pointed in the right direction? Or are there perils and dangers ahead that will block our success in our journey. That is the type of questions Rhonda Batchelor asks in her collection of poetry called Bearings.

Suite Page 7 (excerpt)

Green foliage curls in at the edges of this room

where light, at the whim of the season

can hit with unbending force,

melting the south and west walls.

It can hurt the human eye to sit here at sunset.

The cats come in only after dark

to cry for food, to inspect the curling corners

and to sleep with their backs to the west. Often

I wait for hours before turning on the lamp, preferring

the sure descent of shadow from the angled ceiling.

Batchelor has travelled quite the length of human emotions in this slim volume (44 pages). Her words bring forward a multitude of images to the mind’s eye while reading her words.

Leaving Home (Page 9)

I am dreaming I am waking

in my parents’ house in my old room.

In the winter dark I trail

down creaking stairs to where

my mother sleeps. I steal

several coins from a bedside table,

leave her to her heavy dreams.

 

In the snow I run to a corner bus

stop where the driver waits

with the lights on. Climbing

aboard I forget my direction but he

eases us out under the night sky,

tells me I’ll need to transfer.

While the words she uses may seem personal, they are documenting emotions and feelings that we all have had. We are not alone with the situations she talks about beautifully here.

What shall we name it (Page 29)

 

your first comment after our last mistake

rolling off me like warm water to

wait beside my silence   what do I

say to you   it’s okay if I am

I am   a dark pool

I won’t disturb just yet   thinking

instead about a city I saw tonight

reflected in classified

ads you read to me about big

trucks and big money   oil towns

long highways between

you and me    we’ll have both do

what we have to   toss a stone

see which way the circles go.

Rhonda Batchelor has documented many stations poetically in her collection Bearings. A strong read filled with emotions and angst that is universally felt.

Link to Brick Books page for Bearings

Turning Fact into Great Fiction | Review of “In Calamity’s Wake” by Natalee Caple (2013) HarperCollins

There is a certain beauty created when a collection of facts is taken and made into a work of fiction. Yes, the dates and places need to be included but to be able to understand the emotions of the characters involved and then to craft all that information into a narrative is a wonderful gift to have. And Natalee Caple has proved she has that gift with her novel In Calamity’s Wake.

Page 1

I came to the Badlands because I was told that my mother, a woman named Martha Canary, lived there. It was the man of God who acted all my life as my father who told me this. When it was time for him to die he made me promise that I would go and find her. I squeezed his hands and laid my cheek against his. His breaths and mine were staggered together, very, very weak for different reasons. I said yes because I don’t cry and I loved him and in that last hour we were together I would have promised him anything.

You have to do it, he said. Promise me you will not change your mind. I know you’ve heard sickening things and those things are all true but I’m sure she wants to know you.

 

Caple has brilliantly brought to life the story of Calamity Jane by telling it through the eyes of Jane’s daughter Miette. We are given an honest story here of the “Old West” as we follow the journey of Miette in fulfilling her promise to her adopted father as she learns that the hard-drinking and exhibition shooter legend she thought as her mother was a misunderstood person and very much loved.

Page 49-50

Riding through Wyoming, into a remote mining camp, she found miners beaten and starving, their food, their horses and their equipment stolen by road agents, and themselves left with boots to figure a long trek over stony land to help. She rode to a grocery store ten miles away. She told the owner that men were dying and she needed help. He was intractable, arms folded over a big belly framed by suspenders. On the counter she saw a novel, placed down open-faced. She smiled.

Do you know who I am?

He looked at her and looked down at the book’s cover and he looked back at the guns strapped to her body.

Who am I? she asked.

She returned to the camp with food and blankets.

The storeowner became famous for being robbed by the Heroine of Whoop-Up.

 

There is a lyrical quality to this book that makes it a pleasure to read. Caple stops the journey of the narrative to give us great descriptions that a reader can almost feel.

Page 153-154

It was not quite dawn when I woke and began to walk. My feet clove the sandy earth. My hat had begun to smell and so I tied it upside down on my head with some twine to let the sun bake out the soggy bell of it. An intermittent breeze shook the tree branches overhead loosing sprays of dew. Birds shook their wings. As the clouds retreated, rising higher in the sky and becoming white, the sun lit up the new  spaces of blue. I stared up imaging red kites with tails that whipped behind. I could feel the burning tug of the cord on my finger. My father laughing, tucked his robes into his pants so that he could run with me. The wind in my ears.

 

In Calamity’s Wake by Natalee Caple is a lyrical and smooth work of historical fiction. It has a great sense of history and is filled with vivid descriptions that is a pleasure to read.

Link to Natalee Caple’s website

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for In Calamity’s Wake

 

Awakening or Coming of Age | Review of “Orphan Love” by Nadia Bozak. (2007) Key Porter Books

There seems to be a swarm of coming-of-age novels coming to my attention lately dealing with the 1980s. The struggles of the social norms of that era were immense but not unique. And any novel that documents teenagers trying to grow up during that time should reflect not only a reader’s issues with that era but enlighten a reader to the issues of a person belonging to another group. That is what Nadia Bozak did for me in her novel Orphan Love.

Page 7

Across the highway from the lake there’s a trailer hidden in the bush, far enough back you can’t see it from the road. The man inside thinks this helps keep him and his kid and his wife, before she left him, safe from law and men and Indians, blood brothers and half sisters and anyone else who wants to tear his skin or break his nose, his neck, his hardened heart.

But one morning in spring this stranger comes walking down that bit of lost and empty highway and spots the trailer through the dawn-lit trees. So doing, the stranger crosses the road and disappears into the forest. And with careful, soundless bootsteps creeps up on that hidden trailer, stealing quick peeks in each of its four windows, and then, gun cocked, breaks through its plywood door. Inside there is a little old baby, maybe the last one of its kind. Diaper rotting, skin crawling, and all alone except for its dad, passed out in pissy pants and muddy boots, jacket open and without a shirt on. So the baby and its dad are together soiled and shit-smelling and, though, it’s cold, almost naked. Maybe if that stranger hadn’t come, they would have died out there, the dad and the baby. The dad drinking himself to death, and the baby, meanwhile, dying of thirst. It doesn’t have to be like that. And it isn’t like that anymore, not after the gun-slinging stranger comes busting in on them that morning in spring.

Sadly I had to miss out to hear Bozak at a speaking engagement recently but I was glad I picked up this book. The story deals with a teenager fleeing a beaten-up life in a rugged outpost in northern Ontario, Canada. Along the way she meets up with Dave who is also on the run from an unsettled past. Through the wilds of the north and into the man-made terrain of New York City, they learn about their pain and about themselves.

Page 52

Dave didn’t sleep much. Still dark, and he was up and creeping around. Sleeping with my eyes not quite shut, in the glow of  clear I saw his shadow and I saw that all Dave needed to complete the look of ambush was a knife between his teeth. He stopped when his left boot stopped on a piece of my hair coiled up in the dirt and he stayed very still looking down at me. His boot so close to my poor old head that I could smell the sweat coming from his socks. He was thinking about taking off and leaving me there.  And me thinking how it would be ten times worse with him gone. Through the blur of lashes, I watched Dave turn away and go back to the canoe where he slept for maybe as little as four hours. Could see him in the light of the three-quarter moon that had come out of the cloud cover. Dave carried his pack and the suitcase out of the bushes and then out came his bashed-up boat. Trees rustled like he was the wind. He found his flashlight and ran its yellow cast along the belly of the canoe. With his fingers he smoothed out the bandages and patchwork scattered along  the body, pressed down on the seams and seeing that maybe his rough-hewn craft was holding, he thumped the bow and then switched out the light. Then Dave did this: he lit a match and held it to the body of the boat, just long enough to leave a burn mark. He lit another match and held it to the peeling bark of a paper birch. It didn’t take long for the tree to catch fire. Leaned back with his hands in his pockets and the hood of his Rotting Christ sweatshirt pulled up over his head, watching the spreading flames.

There is a frank and unapologetic language in this book which makes it a great read. Bozak didn’t confine herself to the rules of grammar or politeness when writing this novel which makes it a brilliant read. It took a bit of time to get through this book – it is at times a difficult story to digest – but it is well crafted.

Page 102-103

The forest was already hung with shadows, the still air was decaying like old, wet shit. Walked some minutes, then stopped, unzipped my fly, and pulled down my jeans. Saw black bruises on white thighs, inner and outer, front and back. All the way down, saw scratches and rashes and bug bites, and I thought how ugly I was and how unlike a girl. Then I saw that besides the dirt of the bush, the sweat of the ride, there was blood all over my underwear. Now I’d have to tell Dave I was bear bait. Grabbed up a handful of leaves and just started wiping away at the blood between the legs, thinking here I am with legs worse than any boy’s and I  start the rag.  Fuck. Especially because I didn’t get a period all the time, not regular like other girls, and especially not out there with the body in shock from all the canoeing and fasting and not sleeping either. It was from being around a boy. And not just any boy, but Dave. A rocker and so often an asshole, and I’d left my poor heart out for him to lick and it felt darker and deeper than anything Slava O’Right had done to me. Didn’t know what was worse – getting soft on a runaway rocker Indian or having a starving spring bear sniff me down and devour me for my skinny meat. Frantic now, and those dirty leaves were getting in all the sticky blood and I was making a mess of myself when I was supposed to be getting clean.

 

Orphan Love by Nadia Bozak is frank and bold coming-of-age novel. While it is a difficult  read at times, getting through the book is a worthwhile experience.

Link to Nadia Bozak’s website

Link to House of Anansi page for Orphan Love

 

Describing the Mundane Around Us | Review of “Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway” by Alexandra Oliver (2013) Biblioasis

We stumble through our daily lives but do we give it a serious thought? Is what we go through every day really that important or is it even dangerous? That is the thoughts Alexandra Oliver makes us consider as one reads her collection of poetry called Meeting Tormentors in Safeway.

Test Cape (page 28)

 

I’ve landed on a way to try you out

and gauge your mettle. Please put on this cape.

(It’s far too late to think about escape).

I’d like you now to venture out without

 

your other clothes. The cape will have to do.

Go down to Omar’s Maxi Milk and buy

a pack of Belmont Milds, and would you try

to see if they have raisin bread? Milk too.

 

When you reach across to get the change,

contrive a little conversation. Muse

about the way the Raiders always lose.

Say thank you. Take your time and rearrange

 

your stuff inside the bag. And please try not

to panic. You’ll need Herculean force

to pull it off. You are aware, of course,

it’s August, and it’s criminally hot,

 

and Omar has that huge electric fan

he borrowed from the film set just last week.

If you are not arrested as a freak,

I’ll know you are no ordinary man.

I was introduced to Oliver’s work in the Summer 2014 reading edition of The Walrus Magazine (Link to my review here) where her poem Watching the Cop Show in Bed was published. The simple and profound observations she put in that poem exists also in her book, causing the mind’s eye to open to observe reality in a new light.

Ottawa Walk-In Clinic Waitng Room, 9PM – Page 12

The girl at the desk lives in fear of the phone.

The boy in the chair keeps his foot on a plant.

An old lady mouths her novenas, alone;

I read our phone number out like a chant.

The college kid barks in the crook of his arm.

The bum takes his sock off to check the infection.

A poster describes the contagion and harm

of love under bridges without one’s protection.

While cold-hearted bulbs keep an eye on the gloom,

our son will not take his prescription of fear

but joyfully buzzes in loops round the room

because he’s been told there’s a bug in his ear.

 

It is brilliant how these simple words and phrases makes one think – and think hard. The phrasing is bright and lyrical making the imagery easy to remember.

Modern Camera – Page 53

This is the setting for when you’re inside.

This is the setting for candlelight.

This is the setting for sunrise and sunsets

This is for portraits of people at night.

 

This is the setting for servings of food.

This is the setting for things under glass.

This is the setting for files and documents.

This is the setting for flowers and grass.

 

This is the setting for watching explosions.

This is the setting for watching the match.

This is the setting to hold to the spyhole

And see children cry when you’ve fastened the latch.

 

This is the setting for trembling hands.

This is the setting for earthquakes and fire.

This is the one for the tyrant-in-training

(You cower below them and tilt the lens higher).

 

This is the setting for rocks and hard places.

This is the setting for blood and ablution.

And this button here is the one that you press

When shooting yourself is the only solution.

Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway by Alexandra Oliver is a profound and eye-opening read. A reader is awakened to the world around themselves by these poems and ponders the ways of their existence.

Link to Alexandra Oliver’s website

Link to Biblioasis page for Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway