Monthly Archives: January 2016

Imperfect People Seeking Perfection | Review of “Midwinter of the Spirit” by Phil Rickman (1999) Corvus Books

In the early part of January, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired to its viewers a British miniseries. It dealt with the usual issues of: single-parenthood, religion, values in our age, and so forth. But the story line had the unique character of a imperfect person trying to create understanding of the world that she may not have the tools to deal with.  Merrily Watkins is a unique character in that she is fumbling through something that she is unable to deal with – like so much of us feel on a day-to-day basis. Noting that, I pick a copy of the book that the show was based on. And found myself impressed with Phil Rickman’s Midwinter of the Spirit.

Page 19

‘So,’ Huw Owen said now, mock-pathetic, slumped under the rising moon. ‘Would you come over all feminist on me if I begged you not to do it?’

Merrily said nothing. She’d been expecting this, but that didn’t mean she knew how to handle it. Quite a shock being offered the job, obviously. She’d still known very little about Deliverance ministry. But did the Bishop himself know much more? Huw appeared to think not.

This is the second book in a series of novels that have Merrily Watkins as a protagonist. She is an Anglican priest and a single mom who has been hired by the church to be the Diocesan Exorcist. But, even with the name change of Deliverance Consultant now, the job raises suspicion and questioning by many, including Watkins’ teenage daughter. But this isn’t a story of ghouls and ‘things-that-go-bump-in-the-night’ story that we might expect from when we hear the word ‘exorcist.’ Rickman has documented many elements of the zeitgeists’ questioning of the role of religions and beliefs in this book, giving the novel a simple yet intelligent feel.

Page 109

Merrily’s mouth was dry.

‘This is a dying man,’ Sandra said. ‘And he knows it and she knows it, and she’s still terrified of him. In his younger days, see, he thought he was God’s gift. A woman who knows the family , she told me about all the women and girls he’d had, and the way he abused them but they kept coming back. He charmed them back, he did. Not by his looks, not by his manners, he just charmed them. And then he got older and he got sick and he got married, and he controls the wife by fear. And he’s lying there delighting in Tessa seeing the poor little woman giving him an eyeful of what he owns. If that’s not evil then I don’t know what evil is.’

What is evil? Huw Owen had said. It’s the question you’re never going to answer. But when you’re in the same room with it, you’ll never know.

Merrily said, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t know what I can do.’

‘Protection. She wants protection.’

The door had opened. sister Cullen was standing there, the darkness behind her.

‘She’s right, he’s a bad man with a black charm. But he’s just a man, and that’s where it ends as far as I’m concerned. I’m from Derry, so I’ve seen what religion does to people, and I want none of it. But this is one patient where I’m more concerned about his nurses.

Rickman has a great writing style. He has great descriptions that build an imagine in the mind’s eye with great ease. Then he adds small phrases that jolts a reader into another image of realization. The process is repeated a few times in the book, giving the novel a great flow.

Page 89

In the late afternoon the wind had died, leaving the sky lumpy and congealed like a cold, fried breakfast. Beneath it the historic village of Ledwardine looked sapped and brittle, the black and white buildings lifeless, as indeed several now were. Nothing remained, for instance, of Cassidy’s Country Kitchen except a sign and some peeling apple-transfers on the dark glass; and five For Sale signs had sprouted between Church Street and Old Barn Lane.

The village looked like it needed care and love and a shot of something – an injection of spirit. Of God, perhaps? Introduced by a conscientious, caring priest without selfish ambition she wasn’t equipped to fulfil?

I was glad I was introduced to Midwinter of the Spirit by Phil Rickman via the television series. The book was an engrossing read and I have no doubt that I will be reading more of Rickman’s works in the future.

Link to Phil Rickman’s website

Link to Corvus Books (U.K.) website for Midwinter of the Spirit

A Look at Life Upon the Great Lakes | Review of “Ship Captain’s Daughter: Growing Up on the the Great Lakes” by Ann M. Lewis (2015) Wisconsin Historical Society Press

(I received a copy of this book via a promotion on librarything.com)

We get a little too absorbed in between the lines drawn on maps that we ignore natural features that surround us. I have gotten use to telling people that I grew up and live in Ontario, Canada for so long I have forgotten that the area is surrounded by massive bodies of water known as the Great Lakes. For generations, people have made a living at traversing them but it is easily to taken them for granted. Thank goodness there are memoirs like Ship Captain’s Daughter: Growing Up on the Great Lakes by Ann M. Lewis to enlighten us what life was like at one time near these bodies of water.

Page 1- Introduction

The ship comes in, the ship goes out. As the daughter of a Great Lakes ship captain, I grew up to the rhythm of the transport of iron ore. From the arrival of the shipping orders in March to “lay up” in December, from climbing the ship’s ladder weekly to see my father while he was in port to watching his ship disappear again over the horizon line, my life was dominated by the excitement, the loneliness, the drama and the lure of the shipping industry and the water.

My hometown of Duluth, Minnesota, is located at the western tip of Lake Superior. The water has always been the life of Duluth and its sister city, Superior, Wisconsin, where my father grew up. When iron ore was discovered in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin in the late 1800s, the Twin Ports, with their natural harbor, made it possible for giant cargo ships to carry ore from the mines in the north down through the Soo Locks to the steel mills on the lower lakes in the east. For generations, many local men have worked as shipbuilders, dockworkers, chandlers, uniform manufacturers, stevedores and bridge tenders.

And then there are those men who have worked on the lake. My father, Willis Carl Michler, was one of them. He sailed the Great Lakes for forty-seven years and was a captain of thirteen different ships for twenty-one of those years. Drawn to the water and the big ships as a young man, he followed a dream of becoming a Great Lakes ship captain, and he and my mother and I lived it out together, in all its rich and varied and demanding dimensions.

Lewis written an interesting book here with a clear simple style.  She not only documents the life of her father while he was away at sea, but also her life at home while growing up. This book is a great snapshot of a lifestyle not only of a place but a time as well.

Page 7

Once his ship was fitted out and had set sail, the familiar ritual of calculating his weekly arrival to our area began. The Duluth News Tribune posted the times that the ships passed through the Soo Locks. About twenty-six hours after locking up, he would arrive in the Twin Ports. If he went through the locks at six on a Tuesday morning, which meant Mom would miss her ten a.m. church circle that week. If he left at one on Wednesday to go back down, he would be at the Soo at three p.m. on Thursday in port at ten p.m. on Friday, unloaded by eight a.m. on Saturday, back up bound through the Soo by four p.m. on Sunday, and at a dock near us gain at six a.m. on Monday. Now the school conference for Monday at nine a.m. might have to be canceled, but then again, there just might be a chance that Dad could get off the ship to come with us and meet the teacher, if the weather didn’t delay him, or if someone didn’t decide to quit and have to be officially terminated and paid off. On the day of my eighth-grade graduation, I remember we got lucky. Dad got in at seven a.m. and was able to get off right away. He had to be back by noon, but he got to see my new dress, hear my piano piece and help Mom and me pick lilacs in the backyard for the punch table.

At times, Lewis adds a nice lyrical voice to the story, giving the book a romantic feel to it. A pleasure to read.

Page 70-71 Our Last Trip

By morning the wind had died down and it was clear and sunny. Dad worked on payroll and I sat out on the deck and read. He joined me for a while, watered his flower boxes, and then called for the porter to bring up lunch. Before dinner that night, we walked around the after-cabin a few times for a little exercise, and then we went into the dining room for something I ate only aboard ship – corned beef and cabbage.

When the moon came up, we began to see the outlines in the distance of several ships starting to get in line to go through the river leading up to the Soo Locks. Standing out on the bow, Dad made me look for the North Star just to make sure I remembered how to find “true north.” Since ancient times, he said, Polaris has been the “sailor’ star.” We no have modern navigational devices such as the gyrocompass, but those depend on human power sources that can fail. The North Star never goes out, he laughed. It’s still a sailor’s best friend.

He point out Cassiopeia, important because it’s one of the constellations visible year-round in the northern sky. We stood there silently in a bowl of stars. the ship rocked gently in the night wind. “It’s so awesome out here,” I said. “It feels like we’re floating through time and space.”

“We are, Dolly,” he said, still gazing upward. “We are.”

 

Ship Captain’s Daughter by Ann M. Lewis provides an interesting read about life on and around the Great Lakes. It is an endearing and simple read.

Link to Wisconsin Historical Society’s webpage for Ship Captain’s Daughter

Getting to Understand the situation of ‘That Guy’| Review of “Martin John” by Anakana Schofield (2015) Biblioasis

We have all pondered the individual that seems disturbed or odd in some way. We wonder about their thoughts or their actions but we forget about them after a little while. So what makes them who they are? Anakana Schofield goes into the mind and the life of one such person in her thought-provoking novel Martin John.

Page 20- What They Know:

He remembered the strange fluorescent light, the organized nature of the room and how odd (it was) for a country dental practice to be so well planned inside a house: treatment room + waiting room. The physical space, so carefully executed, had made him comfortable and sleepy.

While the narrative of this book is disjointed and jumbled at times, it helps in giving us the feeling of what Martin John’s life is like. We are given small paragraphs of thoughts and emotions on large blank pages which allow us that moment to ponder and question what we have just read. And in many cases our reflections leave us confused about the protagonist. We know he has done something bad and he will do something bad again but those points are ambiguous in their details. So we read on to try to gain more details.

Page 82 – What They Don’t Know: He Has Made Mistakes

  He has made mistakes:

Martin John has made mistakes.

Baldy Conscience continues to be his biggest mistake. He has been a five-year mistake. A repeat spade-to-the-back-of-his-head mistake. Baldy Conscience lied when moving in. He cannot remember the exact shape of the lies but Baldy Conscience is not who he said he was. He said he was a quiet man. Baldy Conscience said he liked building ships out of matchsticks.

Baldy Conscience was when all the latest trouble officially started again. He is at the bottom of his current situation and he knows it. He even tells the Doctor in the hospital about Baldy Conscience. He fucked everything up for me. I think there;s legions of people out there bothered by him. He’s probably causing the trouble in Beirut. If you killed him now or tomorrow all would be well. He doesn’t smile when he says it. The Doctor looks down at his paper and etches something onto it.

I can’t emphasize enough that this novel isn’t an easy read. This isn’t the type of novel where an English teacher would use to show proper grammar and language usage. But it does show an important slice of the human condition.

Page 140 – What they know: the phone calls.

Martin John observes the Manager fella leaving the office much more than usual. Each time the Manager fella approaches the guard’s desk, Martin John – never doing anything more illegal or illicit than reading the Bible to keep Dallas happy – brightly tells the Manager fella that Rain will fall.

Rain will fall, he’ll announce even when rain is indeed falling and has been falling for the past 7 hours. His choice of the same statement troubles the Manager fella, who is actively patrolling for signs of poor body scent. Martin John is onto him. And onto them. and onto talcum powder. Lily of the Valley. Every orifice dusted with the stuff. Shoes lined with it. He is springing lily puffs, if he moves swift. Martin John is onto them. He even pats a layer of it into his underpants.

The thing none of them factor in is the thing none of them know.

While it isn’t a simple read, Martin John by Anakana Schofield is a great read. She has documented a slice of the human condition in this book in all it’s muddle and confusion and fears. Therefore it is a great piece of literature.

Extracted from Martin John by Anakana Schofield © 2015 Anakana Schofield. Reprinted with permission from the publisher

 

Link to Anakana Schofield’s website

Link to Biblioasis page for Martin John

The Lament of a Hurtful Past | Review of “Hear and Foretell” by Joseph A. Dandurand (2015) BookLand Press

Hear

We have all heard about the pain and the anguish of the Aboriginal peoples recently but do we really get a chance to understand them. Quick sound bites and small mentions in news items touch on their pain but then move on to another issue. Hence, it is insightful to read the thoughts of someone like Joseph A. Dandurand through his collection of poetry called Hear and Foretell.

The Kwantlens – Page 8-9

I had to open a building

this morning for a crew

they were going north

into our territories

up in a place called

Stave Lake.

 

They will be digging for

stone tools

pieces of our

lost

puzzle.

 

who are we?

 

the Kwantlens

 

a pitiful number of 90

than once numbered

in the thousands.

 

smallpox epidemic

wiped us out

80 % of us sick

died

tortured

by illness

one sneeze

and it was over.

 

here now we dig

for our stones

ancient signs

that we once

lived further north

than this island.

 

here we are centuries

of pieces

of torn up

families.

 

quietly my son

goes to the water

and skips a stone

that will be found

a thousand years

from now

in a land

not

forgotten.

Dandurand opens his soul to give a simple voice to complex thoughts and emotions here. His words are clear and small but are able to reveal to the mind’s eye his situation directly and we are able to empathize and understand the world he resides in.

Afterthought Memories – pages 18-19

where is the war?

where do priests go when they touch

little boys?

 

where are the nuns who

beat me and stepped on me

and controlled me?

 

this is not a poem for

carnivals and happy places

nor is this the perfect life

filled with pictures

of happier times.

 

people keep asking me for pictures

but I do not like being in a picture

and there is nothing mysterious

or sacred

as to why.

 

I am a picture.

 

this etched face

this empty heart

this portrait of a hack writer.

 

this fridge makes a noise

the uncaring listen into my home

wondering who I am.

 

don’t ask

and no pictures please

leave me alone

to write pictures

like this one.

 

a landslide

of afterthought

memories

taken

and tossed.

Dandurand does an excellent job in capturing elements of the human condition and bring them forth in this book. While he enlightens us about modern Aboriginal life, he also expresses some of his personal anguish and fears, sharing thoughts we all have at times and helping us not feel alone in our pains.

Lovers – Page 56-57

there have been good ones

sad ones

crazy ones

and then I speak

and all of them run away.

 

wouldn’t you?

 

am I so terrible?

 

I go in with passion

upon my lips

as I caress them

as I love them.

 

today I have no lovers

only memories of goodbyes

and I wonder who is loving

them all now.

 

I curl up on an empty bed

hugging myself

trying to feel a sensation that

is no longer there.

 

the window is closed

the blinds are down

the cats are sleeping

the room is empty

except for a frightened man

hiding his love

from lovers

who all walked away.

 

I open my mouth

to speak

to save myself

but the words

are all empty

yes

my

words

are empty.

Hear and Foretell by Joseph A. Dandurand brings forth an element of the human condition rarely explored. His words are simple yet his emotions are deep and complex. A great read and an author worthy of further study.

Link to the Wikipedia page on Joseph A. Dandurand

Link to Bookland Press website for a page on Joesph A. Dandurand