Monthly Archives: July 2016

A Complex Novella with Strong Concepts | Review of “Bring Clouds to the Kingdom” by Zack Metcalfe (2016) Iguana Books

Kingdom

We have often talked about the duality of human nature. Left and Right. Male and Female. Urban versus Rural. Ying and Yang. Yet the concept may be a bit more complex than the simple terms we use to illustrate them with. That is the thought I kept recalling as I read Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom.

Page 1-2 Prints in the Snow

Two men walk through the snow. Before and behind them is evergreen growth, mountains and biting cold. They wear thick coats woven from layers of lion hide and the dense fur is pulled and pushed by the wind.

A footprint in the snow, leading toward the mountain in the north.

He kneels over the print and sees five toes. He waves over the other man, who likewise kneels and sees.

“Do you think Abraham was here?” one asks.

“Who else would be in this wretched place without shoes?” replies the other.

They stand and one addresses a metal box strapped to his waist. On it is a button, a light and a bell. The button is pressed once and seconds later, the bell rings seven times. They nod to one another, then continue north, following the prints.

These prints, mostly snowed over, are difficult to follow. North is their only guidepost. The mountains grow taller as the men approach and the wind sometimes throws back their hoods. Snow gets into their coats and boots, quickly melting and soaking their skin. One man trips and the other stops to help.

The faint howling of wolves is carried to them in the wind. They both go still . . .

Another howl comes, this one closer.

Another howls, this one farther.

Silence.

Metcalfe has written a complex and detailed story here about not only climate change but also one which explores human nature. The plot deals with two men pulled from time and placed in the future where the world is dying and sorrows are universal. One man builds an empire, using bricks, mortar and manipulation to gain and keep his power. The other gathers what life still exists to build a kingdom of greenery and harmony. This two visions bitterly contrast each other on what is left of the Earth.

Page 34-35

At the tree line, observing this network of tents, is Assir. He is thinner and dirtier than he has ever been, and his feet are bloody. Exposing his pale skin to the fullness of the sun hurts him.

He moves with the utmost calm, so much so he is overlooked by the labouring masses, who themselves are better cleaned, better fed and better focused. He joins them under the tents and watches them mix the sand with charcoal and mud.

People pass him, bush shoulders with him, without seeing the wretch of a man in their midst, his lips cracked from thirst and eyes red with exhaustion. Digging tools and potted plants are exchanged among the people with such routine that a flower is accidentally thrust into Assir’s hands. The force of the exchange nearly knocks him down, but he remains upright, his gaze fixed in front of him, his thoughts lost in a dream.

Slowly, he looks down at the flower. It’s small, with two wax green leaves and yellow petals spotted with orange. The soil in which it lies is marginally darker than the sand and is wrapped in dried seaweed.

This fragile example of life weighs on Assir, more in mind than in body. He looks again at the masses of people  . . . and collapses.

Metcalfe has certainly created a novella with deep ideals wrapped up inside a narrative. It is a complex story but one when an honest reader completes it, will ponder carefully some of the thoughts and images in it. And that is what a good narrative should be about.

Page 69

“Conquest and war and the horrors they bring about are  . . .  simple. They are the refuge of cowards and bullies and bastards. To survive and live in harmony with the world . . . requires the greatest courage of all. To create life rather than destroying it is  . . . godlike.” Assir cranes his neck and observes the young forest surrounding them. “This forest and the people who built it have worth. You and I . . .have none. You’ve abandoned your moral compass in despair and enabled these murderers. I beg you to find it again.”

Zack Metcalfe’s novella Bring Clouds to the Kingdom may be a complex read but it is one with concepts and ideas worth considering. It does what good literature should do.

*****

Link to Iguana Books’ website for Bring Clouds to the Kingdom

Link to my Q&A with Zack Metcalfe – “(W)ith fiction I can build a world already ravished by climate change and invite (people) to witness it”

A Thriller in the Wilds | Review of “Edge of Wild” by D. K. Stone (2016) Stonehouse Publishing

Edge

A stranger comes to town. That theme in any story is the sign of a plot that is full of twists and conflicts. We follow a series of characters through a collection of uncomfortable situations – many leading in conflicts – and we are compelled to finish the story desperate to see how the situations are resolved. And that is exactly what D. K. Stone has done by leading her readers to the Edge of Wild.

Page 18

Dawn came too quickly, and Rich struggled to awaken when the alarm went off. He shaved and showered, putting on his second-best suit and heaviest top-coat, the headed out into the early morning haze. Around him, sun-tipped ridges soared, looming golden over the far southern edge of town where the manager’s cabin was located. He shielded his eyes, taking in his home for the foreseeable future.

His was the last cabin before the campground, beyond that was untouched forest. The two-storey house had cross-timbered peaks and faded stucco, its roof covered with uneven cedar shakes. Against the majestic sky, it looked like a doll’s house, while eight blocks away – dead centre in the target of the small town  – the straight angles and bold lines of the newly-constructed Whitewater Lodge perched like an ungainly bird against the backdrop of lofty peaks. It looked, Rich decided, like an unfinished drawing from a discarded Frank Lloyd Wright sketch book, but even from this distance, dark blotches on the surface marred the illusion of perfection. Pieces of siding were peeling under the onslaught of wind. Seeing it, Rich grimaced. He buttoned his coat and trudged down the front steps. What he saw beyond the porch had him stumbling to a stop.

There were footprints in the snow.

This is a great thriller of a novel. We see Rich Evans plucked from the streets of New York and deposited into the mountain town of Waterton. Entrusted to bring a luxury hotel to the small town, one thing after another seems to block Evans attempts to do his job. Yet as the locals become more and more hostile to him, he finds himself attracted to Louise Newman, the town’s mechanic who is fixing his unreliable BMW. Yet as their attraction grows, a series of murders is plaguing the area, and Evans begins to fear for his own life.

Page 37-38

There was a flash of russet and two startled deer bounded past. Rich’s head jerked in surprise, but he didn’t slow. He could no longer see the figure ahead of him, but the ground canted downward, his speed increasing as he moved toward the falls. Suddenly the greenery fell away, replaced by open ground, the roar of Cameron Falls deafening. A flicker of movement – gold this time – caught his attention on the cliff face next to the waterfall, and Rich stumbled to a halt.

There were cougars, three of them, and they were watching him.

He recalled reading Jeffrey Chan’s last email to Coldcreek Enterprises, sent a week before the wayward manager had disappeared. “Waterton is too primative, and I don’t feel I’m adequately prepared to manage a hotel in the area. There is dangerous wildlife in the townsite. My dog was killed by a cougar while chained in my yard.” Rich was panting, the sweat across his back icy. He was the only thing in the small clearing, except for the three cougars. One was the mother, the other two her half-grown cubs.

That’s why the deer were running, he realized in belated horror.

The mother raised her head in interest and took two steps down the steep incline, muscles rippling under loose hide. Cunning eyes held his gaze. Rich took a single step backward, and then another, random snippets of information flashing in his mind. Cougars could take down much larger animals than themselves. They were known to be clever and enjoyed the hunt. Swift and deadly, the surest way was to turn and run.

Rich stopped in his tracks. He didn’t have a chance. He was already winded.

With a calmness born from exhaustion and terror, the shaking of his body stilled, his heart slowing. The cougars were burnished gold in the moonlight, their shapes bright against the damp grey cliff. The two cubs moved across the ragged edge of the rocky outcrop, their mother a stone’s throw below. Rich gasped as the female in front jumped to a lower ledge, balancing on the small precipice. She watched him warily, her head moving back and forth as if trying to ascertain what he was, and whether he was worth the bother. Rich waited out her attention, his mind skittering, looking desperately for an escape.

He couldn’t see one.

Stone’s descriptions are vivid and simple. The mind almost flashes immediately with an image of a scene she lays out or an emotion she is describing. And with that a reader will crave to continue with the story until the book is finished. A quality of a great thriller.

Page 89-90

Waterton’s marina was located on the small jetty of land extending past Main Street out into Waterton Lake. Faded plank docks stretched out into the dark waters of Emerald Bay, boats moaning softly as they rocked against their moorings. The marina was the last outstretched finger of the clasped hands of Waterton’s business centre; this finger pointed back to the base of the mountains where the town’s sole entrance lay. Unlike the marinas in larger communities, Waterton’s waterfront had no life after the sun went down. The main walkway was bare, spectral shadows cast from the trees overhead dancing in the golden circles of street lamps. The shoreline, with its slope-roofed buildings, was eerily abandoned; a circular parking lot, bustling during daylight hours was empty save for a single motorcycle.

Mac stood in the oily darkness of the empty parking lot, glaring out at the slick black surface of Emerald Bay and the shimmering lights of the Prince of Wales Hotel reflected in it. The town was too small, in Mac’s opinion. There were few places to meet without drawing suspicion. From his position near the marina, the sounds of the downtown streets intruded – people’s laughter from the bar and strains of music – while beyond the trees, the steady chop of waves broke the silence. Early summer coolness clung to the air leaving him chilled beyond what he’d expected for the last week of June. He waved away a small cloud of mosquitoes and took a drag on his cigarette. The ember flared to life, revealing acne-pitted features and a prison tattoo which crawled up from the collar of a leather jacket around his neck.

D. K. Stone has produced an enticing thriller with Edge of Wild. Her descriptions are vivid and clear making a reader to want to push forward with the story. A great read.

*****

Link to D. K. Stone’s website

Link to Stonehouse Publishing’s webpage for Edge of Wild

Link to my Q&A with D. K Stone – “I was eager to find a Canadian press for Edge of Wild, since it’s a Canada-focused story.”

 

Learning from Poor Milo | Review of “Milosz” by Cordelia Strube (2012) Coach House Books

Milosz

The works of Cordelia Strube have been the topic of many discussions these past weeks since my review of her latest work On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light (Link to that review) Many of those discussion have spark personal reflections and considerations to the human condition – ponderings about family members, friends, lovers, neighbours, etc. – which is a attribute of a good piece of literature.  And for those people who enjoyed that book will certainly gain the same insights with her book Milosz.

Page 7-8

The banging stops at two a.m. Milo lifts the pillow off his head but still can’t sleep and considers going next door to ensure that no one has been hurt. They can seem so comfortable, the three of them, in the backyard flipping burgers, tossing the ball for the dog. Sometimes Milo sits in darkness, undetected, on his side of the yard, and looks in their windows. Tanis and Christopher often share a bottle of wine at the kitchen table, conversing easily. Milo envies their intimacy, their shared troubles, their abnormal son. When he moved back in after his father disappeared, he could hear them making love. It sounded as though they were trying to save each other from drowning.  Not anymore. Now the only noise coming through the was is the TV. Or screams.

The beauty of this book is (again) Strube has a protagonist who has profound insights into the world yet is stuck with mundane people around them. We witness Milo’s acting career stuck in neutral. His girlfriend has dumped him. His father has disappeared.  And a collection of freeloaders have taken over lodging in his house. Yet the only person that poor Milo can truly relate to – an autistic eleven-year-old boy who lives next door – is being bullied, Milo jumps into action to try to improve at least one life. And the consequences spiral out of control.

Page 122-123

‘Do you know this man?’ the bodybuilder (cop) asks Tanis.

‘He’s my neighbour.’

‘We found him with your son.’

I found him.’ Milo interjects. ‘Actually he found me.’

‘Shut up,’ the wrestler (cop) says.

‘He built some kind of wigwam with your son last night and slept in it.’

Tanis, who has been looking and acting like a madwoman, opens and closes her mouth several times. Already she has further alienated the police by accusing them of mistreating her son. ‘Get away from him,’ she kept yelling at them. Milo had to restrain Robertson while she strapped on the protective helmet. They can hear him thumping as they stand in the front hall.

Tanis looks at Milo with eyes completely unfamiliar to him. “You knew where he was?”

‘Not until the early hours of this morning,’ Milo explains. ‘He didn’t want to come back and I didn’t want to force him. I mean, it was dark. We could have gotten lost.

‘So how long were you planning to stay in the wigwam?’ the bodybuilder inquires.

‘Hopefully not long. I was hoping he’d get hungry and I could interest him in some pancakes or something.’

Tanis sits and stares at nothing. ‘Why didn’t he want to come home?’

‘He didn’t want to go to school.’ Milo says, which is easier than explaining that the pressure to be normal has overwhelmed Robertson.

‘Well, ma’am, if you’re satisfied that your son’s safe, we’ll be on our way.’

‘What do you mean “safe”? He’s never safe.’ She starts getting loud again. ‘He’s bullied in the schoolyard every single day. What kind of sick world allows a boy to be bullied every single day? What kind of sick, perverted world?’ Both cops edge towards the door.

‘So you want no charges laid?’ the bodybuilder asks.

‘Charges?’

‘Against your neighbour here.’

‘For what?’

‘He kept the boy in the wigwam, ma’am.’

‘It was a debris shelter,’ Milo interjects.

‘Get out,’ Tanis orders.

Milo and the cops look at each other because they’re not sure whom she’s talking to.

‘All of you. Get out. Now.’ She starts swinging her crutch. The cops hurry out but Milo lingers. The wrestler reaches back for him. ‘You too, asshole.’

While there is a noble desire that moves Milo into action, the results are strongly bittersweet. Milo is pushed into doing something and he then fumbles around the muddled results. Yes, it is funny at times but there is almost something enlightening about considering his actions.

Page 154

When he was small Milo found solace in his collections of marbles, matchbooks, condiment packets, stir sticks, plastic cutlery, mini soaps and shampoos. All went into shoeboxes under his bed that Mrs. Cauldershot had to remove when vacuuming. ‘What in God’s name have you got in those boxes?’

‘Treasure,’ he replied. The boxes were carefully bound with elastic bands. He knew Mrs. C. didn’t have the patience to open them. When he was supposed to be sleeping he’d take out his flashlight and examine his acquisitions, wishing he could share them with the baby he imagined would have grown into an adoring little brother. His mother assured Milo that he didn’t kill the baby, that it was already dead when he flushed and that she left it in the toilet because she wanted the doctor to see it. Milo hadn’t looked in the bowl, only noticed the curled-up, watery and bloody fetus swirling around after he’d pressed the lever and his mother shrieked, ‘Don’t flush!’

From then on, when he heard his mother making terrible sounds in the bathroom, he held his teddy bears against his ears. Once he peed himself rather than look in the toilet. He only went into the bathroom in the morning after his father had shaved.

Pushing open the door to Gus’s house, he longs for shoeboxes full of treasure.

Cordelia Strube has given readers not only empathy but a means of discussion with her protagonist in her novel Milosz. It is a wonderful piece of literature.

*****

Link to Coach House Books website for Milosz

Link to Cordelia Strube’s website

“The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts” | Q&A with Illustrator Alec Dempster

Hobo

For those of us in today’s era who still admire book, we truly love the detail, the time and the craft of the printed page. And that admiration counts for both writers and illustrators. Alec Dempster has created a series of woodcuts to illustrate JonArno Lawson’s newest collection of poetry – called The Hobo’s Crowbar – and agreed to answer a few questions for me. The Hobo’s Crowbar will be released by The Porcupine’s Quill in October, 2016.

*****

1) How long did it take you to do the woodcuts for The Hobo’s Crowbar? JonArno Lawson stated in a Q&A for me he was amazed by your work for the book. Was it an easy task to create images for his poems?

I spent several months creating the images.  Because I was working on another illustration project at the same time, working on music for Palo Dado my new band (Link to their Facebook page here), as well as my work for Lula Music and Arts Centre (Link here) it is hard to say exactly how long it took . I spend about two of three days on each image. Some time is also spent preparing the woodblocks. In this case a friend of mine who is a luthier had some spare offcuts of veneer from another project and he helped me glue them to particle board. It wasn’t the ideal material but I managed to make it work for me and the result is a series of images that are unlike any other I have made. The fact that I was free to choose which poems to illustrate from a large selection made it easier. I found the poems that evoked an image in me and that I could connect to personally in some way. I wouldn’t say that is was easy but I had a lot of freedom to create which made a big difference.

2) According to your website, this will be your sixth book that you have been involved with. (Including another book with JonArno Lawson.) Is publishing and illustrating something you enjoy doing?

Each book project I have worked on has been thoroughly enjoyable and very different. The book form is well suited to the black and white images I create whether it be linoleum prints, woodblock prints or paper cuts. As opposed to showing the work in a gallery for a month or so, the images in the book continue to circulate for much longer. 

3) Will you be exhibiting the works from The Hobo’s Crowbar in any way? Will copies from the cuts be available for purchasing?

The prints are being shown till the end of August in Mandrágora Galería y Taller in Metepec, Mexico. (Link to their Facebook page) They are for sale and I am looking for somewhere to show the work in Toronto. Other venues are most welcome. 

4) Are there artists that you admire for their technique? If yes, who are they and why?

The artists that I admire are good technicians but for me technique is a given. I am more interested in what an artist has to communicate. A few of the fellow printmakers I admire are Sergio Sánchez Santamaria,  Daniel González, Mazatl, Joel Rendón and Demian Flores. Except for Mazatl, I know them all and that makes a difference to my appreciation of the work because I understand something about where they are from and where they create. There are many more artists I admire. 

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

I am working on a new series of illustrations for a book by Hubert Malina for Pluralia Ediciones in Mexico. (Link to their website (in Spanish)) Hubert writes in Mè’ phàà a language spoken in the mountains of the state of Guerrero and in Nicaragua. The book is part of a series of Mexican indigenous poets writing in different languages. It is an honour to be part of the series. 

6) You seem to have an active online presence on the social-media platforms life Facebook and Twitter? How do you you like using these applications in relation to your work?

Facebook is useful for promoting events although it hasn’t been very useful in terms of selling my work. I haven’t understood the usefulness of Twitter so you could say I have given up on it. Instagram seems to be used a lot by visual artists and I am giving it a try.  (Link to Alec Dempster’s Instagram page)

7) You have been travelling quite a bit for your work but where is your studio located right now? Is it in a city or region that inspires you for your work?

My provisional studio is located in Toronto. I wouldn’t say that Toronto inspires my artwork but living here has given me a form of stability that allows me to focus on my artwork when I have time to allot to sitting down to create. When I lived in Mexico I was able to dedicate longer periods to work on art projects exclusively. Here I am constantly juggling time and occupations. Toronto is an inspiring place musically and my musical projects have fed on the diversity of excellent musicians that live here.

*****

“The Hobo’s Crowbar was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them”| Q&A with Poet JonArno Lawson

Hobo

JonArno Lawson’s works has been endeared by both adults and children for it’s wit and whimsy. He has been a winner of numerous awards – including the Governor General’s award in 2015 for the illustrated children’s book Sidewalk Flowers. It was exciting for me to see that Lawson will be release a new collection called The Hobo’s Crowbar in October, 2016 and he answered a few questions about his new work here.

*****

1) The Porcupine’s Quill’s website  is calling The Hobo’s Crowbar a “collection of poems brimming with whimsical wordplay.” How would you describe it? What inspired you (if any) to write it?

The Hobo’s Crowbar  was written in the way some of my other collections of poems have been written – mostly emerging out of sound ideas or just ideas that I jot down in my notebook as I think of them, and then explore or fill out later. There was no central idea, just a pile of poems that seemed large enough to make a book from after a few years! Someone told me years ago that bpNichol worked on many of his projects in a similar way – he had files for different manuscripts where he sorted his ideas and poems, and at a certain point he’d realize something was full enough, or finished enough, to make a book out of (if he was aiming for a book – in his case, it wasn’t always a book!). I liked that model of working, and I’ve tried to use the same method, though I think Nichol was probably more organized than I am.

2) The Hobo’s Crowbar is illustrated with woodcuts by Alec Dempster. (Click here for a link to his website) Was there much planning between the two of you for the book? How long did it take to create the book?

 
The oldest poems in the collection go back twenty years. But most were written after 2013. Alec showed me his work after he was done – he’s an amazing artist – I had no input as far as his images went. He came for dinner a few months ago, and brought the woodcut for the cover image to show me the actual size – they’re less than half the size of the images you see in the book. Very small. Which is funny, because the paper cuts he did for Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box were larger than the images you see in that book. He’s full of surprises.

3) Will you be planning any sort of book/reading tour for The Hobo’s Crowbar? (Or even a public launch for the book?) If yes, are there events you are excited to be attending?

 
 I’m going to be reading from The Hobo’s Crowbar at the Fog Lit festival in Saint John’s, New Brunswick, at the end of September. I don’t have anything else lined up, but it would be great to have some kind of launch in Toronto. Porcupine’s Quill is pretty wonderful about promoting their titles, so I’m pretty sure we’ll do something here.

4) You still seem to be keeping busy with Sidewalk Flowers. Do you have many public events upcoming for it? How do you feel about the success of it so far?

 
Sidewalk Flowers has had a great run. (Click for a link to my review) And it does still seem to be running, in part because the foreign editions are still coming out a few at a time. Right now it seems to be doing well in Germany – I was delighted when someone mentioned the fact I was half-named for German writer Arno Schirokauer in a radio review (on Radio Bremen). Sydney Smith (the illustrator) and I will be going to Ireland in mid-September to take part in the Children’s Books Ireland festival – we’re supposed to talk about our collaborative process at a session there. It seems every time I think nothing else could happen with the book, something else happens! At first it was wonderful, then I started to find it distracting from other work I was trying to do, now I’m just going with the flow – it’s all good. Time passes quickly and it’s silly not to enjoy the good things as they happen. I’m not great with the unexpected – my nature is more to enjoy watching than to enjoy being watched. But we all need some of both.

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

I’m working on a few different things. Mostly I’m working very hard to finish up a book about playing cross-culturally with children. It’s a non-fiction book. I have to have it finished enough for the publisher to start editing it by the end of July, so it’s pretty close now. I’ve been working on this book for ten years! So many interruptions. . .mostly my own. It will come out in 2017 with Wolsak & Wynn (a Hamilton-based publisher). It’s tentatively called “Around the World by TTC”.  I’m also working on a children’s picture book with Montreal artist Nahid Kazemi.  Later in the summer I’m starting on an Arabian Nights sort of story cycle – this is a big project, I have a lot of work (and reading) to do for it, completely different from anything else I’ve done, so it’s making me a little nervous (but exciting to think about too).

6) In the last Q&A (Link to “I like that kids have fewer filters, and they really don’t care about your reputation”) you listed a quite a few of your favourite writers. Have you discovered any new writers since then that you admire?

 
 Writers I’ve discovered since last time! That’s a good question. . . I’ve become a very big fan of Alison Gopnik. Her books about babies and children are fascinating. She has a book that came out just now called “The Gardener and the Carpenter” – well worth reading. Mark Winston’s “Bee Time” is a great read. “On the Move”, by Oliver Sacks. I’m part way through Siddhartha Mukherjee’s book “The Gene: An Intimate History” – very entertaining. He’s a fine writer.
*****

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The Strife of Others and Our Own | Review of “I Carried You Home” by Alan Gibney (2016) Patrick Crean Editions

Home

We all have tried to deal with trauma and strife within our family units. Death, illness, loss of fortunes, etc. take their toll upon psyches and,  in turn,  manifest themselves in irrational behaviors. So how do we at least try to relate to odd manners when they occur? Literature gives us a starting point to talk about our problems. And one such point for readers to use for a discussion about family problems is Alan Gibney’s I Carried You Home.

Page 1-2

The police said Will landed on the hood of the car, but I imagined it differently at the time. I imagined him flying over the odd and hitting the ground and everything going quiet and still, and it staying like that for a long moment, the snow falling gently on the wreck, and then the wind starting up again and her waking with the noise and pulling herself free and shouting into the trees, searching until she found him in the snow. She didn’t think of dragging him to the car and leaving him on the seat and going for help. She wasn’t capable of leaving him. She carried him on her back through the blizzard, up and down the steep hills, over the ice and snow. She kept forgetting what had happened. Why was she there? Why did her face hurt? A ditch. A tree. Keep moving. She was bent over, balancing him on her back, his arms over her shoulders. She shuffled forward, holding his wrists, his face against her neck. Her hands burned in the wind. How far was it? She drove it very day. It was at least a mile. There long hills, a good mile. Will groaned and kicked his legs. Hold on, she shouted. He coughed against her neck. Something warm rolled down her back. We’re almost there. Her teeth hurt, her neck hurt. She pulled down on his wrists to stop him struggling. Hold on.

I was doing homework in the living room, watching the snow swirling around the garden lights. I saw someone coming up the driveway, an old woman bent over carrying a bundle on her back her long hair whipping in the wind. She looked up, and it was my mother, her face pale blue in the porch light. I ran outside in my T-shirt.

– What happened? What happened? I shouted over the wind.

 

This is a very intense book that deals with internal thoughts and emotions – things many of us rarely wish to talk about it. We are introduce to Ashe, an adolescent male who is trying to mature into a man. Yet his already awkward home life is shattered even more as his brother is killed and his mother shuts herself away from the world.

Page 10-11

After the prayer, Nell stood beside the grave as people filed by.

-We will see you at the reception, Mrs. Finder, the priest said to her.

She said nothing. He touched her shoulder but she didn’t look up. He walked down the hill with his head bowed. The people started drifting away. My girlfriend, Sheila, walked up the hill with a white rose in her hand. She was lame in one leg, which made it hard for her to climb up the slope. She went over to Nell and handed her the flower. Nell stared down at it, as if she couldn’t understand what it was for, the she crumpled it and dropped it on the ground. I took Sheila by the arm and led her down to her parents. I’m sorry, I said to them. They stared up at Nell for a time, then turned and left.

Nell just stayed in the same spot, her eyes shut, her jaw muscles working working like she was chewing something. I stood by a tree to get away from the wind. Karl stayed out in the open shivering, his hands clasped in front of him like an altar boy. The snow started up for a while and then stopped. Why hadn’t Aunt Susan come, I wondered. Wasn’t she told? How long did we have to stand by the damn hole? It was black from where I stood. I couldn’t look at it. I watched Nell rocking gently from side to side, the wind pulling at her dress and hair. Then her knees buckled and she fell face down on the snow with her arms out. Karl ran over and grabbed her under the arms and sat her up.

-Breathe, Nell. You’ve fainted. Breathe in.

-Don’t touch me, she said, pushing him away and trying to get up but sitting down again. She held her hand out to me. Please.

For the a book that deals with such deep emotions, the language in it is very simple. We can follow Ashe thoughts with ease and grasp his anger and frustrations. And sense his discomforts when situations arise that cause him trepidation. This is a great book for reader to come to grips with their own anguish no matter what their age may be.

Page 127

-Mom.

-All right? It’s a simple promise. If I’m alive, you won’t play with the gun. You won’t touch it. Just promise me that.

-Okay, I promise.

-The day I’m gone, you can do whatever you want.

-You’re such a bitch.

-I’m not a nice person, Ashe. It’s true. I know that. And I wish I cared about it, but I don’t seem to right now, I’m sorry. I don’t know how I’m meant to act these days. Susan told me she slept with Karl, and you found out about it. But the thing I couldn’t figure out was why she woke me up to tell me. Does she really think I care what she does with Karl? Because I don’t. I really don’t care what anyone does. It’s not a nice thing. I know that . . . Look, I’m going back upstairs now, but I expect you to keep your promise. I wouldn’t expect it from anyone else, but I do from you. I hold you to a higher standard Ashe.

– I’m not going to touch the gun, I said.

-Okay then.

She walked past me and paused at the door.

-You’re the only person I trust Ashe . . .You’re your own man, I know that . . . Everyone else is just wandering around, spinning in the wind, but not you . . . Don’t think I haven’t noticed.

She went upstairs. Suddenly I was dog-tired. I didn’t want to go outside and sleep in the cold. I went into the living room and lay down on the sofa.

I Carried You Home by Alan Gibney is a complex and interesting read that can help one come to grips with their own emotions. A unique piece of literature and an emotional one too.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for I Carried You Home

 

The Injustices Endured by Settlers | Review of “Kalyna” by Pam Clark (2016) Stonehouse Publishing

Kalyna

Every story that deals with settlers are unique stories that deal with hardship and pain. They are important lessons for us to understand how people worked to develop the land into the nation we have today. But one book has recently come across documenting a people’s quiet resolve while not only dealing with the hardships of climate and isolation but also dealing with a grave injustice. And that book is Pam Clark’s Kalyna.

Page 51

Katja’s eyes darted back and forth at the buildings and the dusty road. There was no spirited market alive with people and vegetables. No children were playing. In fact, the street was quite deserted. One shopkeeper was leaning on the wooden railing outside his Hudson’s Bay tuck shop and nodded to Wasyl. Wasyl tipped his hat to the man. Robert Benton had seen many of these new folks come through here and knew that the farmers would be back to town for some staple goods when the time came. Best to be welcoming now.

“There is no one here.” Katja murmered, “Where is everyone?”

“Wasyl knew Katja was expecting a life similar to Drobomil and he too had expectations, for what else did they have but their previous life to compare this to?

There would be greater isolation at first, he anticipated, but this would subside as more land was settled and the bloc settlement continued to grow. The Dominion Land clerk had confirmed this with his land grant.

“Katja, there are many of us, just like in Drobomil. We just live farther apart. That is the government’s declaration. They was dispersed settlement. We will meet people. We will come to the church on Sunday and meet others just like us.”He nodded to the cupola. “It’s a reminder of home, no?”

The story is set in the early part of the 20th Century. Katja and Wasyl have made the difficult journey across the Atlantic to the Canadian prairies. They work hard to build their new lives and find new friendships in the town of Edna-Star. But just things seem to settle down, the ghosts of World War I rise and the internment of Ukrainian-Canadians threaten the family’s stability and future. Yet the family endures.

Page 125

In such a small close knit community as Edna-Star, new travelled quickly. At church on Sunday the priest spoke about the internment, the about hope. Official word had been given that seven men from the bloc community had been imprisoned over the past several weeks and were housed in a forced labor camp in Banff National Park, called Castle Mountain. Mr Benton had given Katja and Mary a copy of The Edmonton Gazette where an article from The Crag and Canyon newspaper, out of Canmore, had been reprinted. It announced the opening of the camp and advised Canmore residents, particularly lady folk, to be on guard, for there were criminals in their midst. And what is their crime? Katja thought, as she read the article. That they came to Canada and wanted a better life for their families?

The priest spoke of forgiveness and peace at this time of war. While the congregation prayed for the men, fathers, sons, and brothers, Katja also prayed for Mary and her baby. She peeked out during the prayer at Mary’s face, serene and calm. Mary’s parents had urged her to move home to the village and live with them until Ivan returned, but Mary would have nothing of that. She would link Katja’s arm in hers, insisting they would weather this together. Katja was grateful for Mary’s company and conversation. Their division of labor for the mundane household chores happened naturally and Katja marvelled at their unspoken understanding of their need for time alone as well.

Clark stated in numerous interviews that this was a story ‘inside her’ for many years. It was enjoyable to finally see the story and her hard work coming out in print. The story is detailed and complex at times but it also emotional and enlightening. And yes, it is a story about settlers but it also a story about an injustice and how a group of hard-working people endured that injustice at enormous cost at times. A truly Canadian story and an honest one.

Page 171-172

Wasyl stopped writing suddenly. He had let himself just write and not think and now he knew he couldn’t send this letter to Katja. He was out of line and the guard would never allow it out of the camp. He crinkled it up and boosted hinself off his lower bunk. He walked to the fire stove and threw the crumpled ball in before on of the guards could stop him; his words becoming glowing orange embers. It wold be one more week until he would be granted tokens for the canteen to get another sheet of paper, but he needed time to think about what he could and couldn’t say to dear Katja. He needed time.

Wasyl looked up at Ivan in the top bunk, his hands bandaged and wrapped like a mummy, clutching his head, and peeking out beneath the woollen blanket. Wasyl had to find a way to convince Ivan to be strong now. He could see his friend spiralling downward and knew if he couldn’t intervene, the would all end badly for Ivan and maybe him too. There was little opportunity to talk to each other privately in the barracks as the guards wandered between the rows of bunks and clapped their batons into the palms of their opposite hands menacingly. Wasyl had seen one of the guards hit a fellow prisoner when walking to the quarry at Castle, accusing him of walking too slowly. He couldn’t chance having anything happen to Ivan had to find a time to talk deeply to him. Wasyl stared at the blackened flakes and chastised himself for wasting the paper, but only for a minute. The letter wouldn’t have gotten out of the camp.

 

Kalyna by Pam Clark is a enlightening and interesting read about hard-working settlers and the injustices they endured. Truly a great read.

*****

Link to Pam Clark’s website

Link to Stonehouse Publishing’s website for Kalyna

Link to my Q&A with Pam Clark – “ ‘We are all settlers’ was a prevalent thought as I was writing Kalyna.”

 

 

A Gritty yet Familiar Coming-of-age Novel | Review of “What We Salvage” by David Baillie(2015) Chizine Publications

Salvage

Thank you to J. H. Gordon Books of Hamilton, Canada for making this book available (Their link here)

As time marches on for all of us, there remain a detritus of memories that haunt us. We dwell on those memories with either regret or joy over and over again. David Baillie has his protagonist pondering his life in his novel What We Salvage and the gritty memories that comes forward in it are shockingly familiar.

Page 11

Tonight, the mods are scattered all over the north end of the Hammer – Hamilton, that is, our steel city home wrapping around the western tip of Lake Ontario. The north end is mostly industrial, but there are a few haunts scattered throughout. We were collectively vomited out of one recently, in fact, forced to make our way back to calmer waters by slogging through unfamiliar terrain. A shite portage, but you play the hand you’re dealt, I guess.

Or just don’t play the game at all, but that never occurred to us until later. When you’re sixteen, a carefully constructed identity is everything.

This is an honest, gritty and sometimes brutal coming-of-age novel that is frank and honest in its language and descriptions. Baillie has documented a reality that may be shocking to many English teachers but is reflective to many of us who struggled with our youth. His use of Hamilton, Canada as a setting is brilliant and unique yet also very familiar to many readers.

Page 22

Glasgow, Aberdeen, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast – many of us are right off the boat, or were raised by those who were. And, of course, there’s no one as rabid as the expatriate. Hamilton’s replete with pubs that echo those of homelands left behind: dark wood and close quarters, house darts and cribbage board behind the bar, Belhaven and Tartan and Boddingtons and a dozen others on tap. Much of our own vocabulary, just echoes of street slang imported, too, apologetically mixed with Canadian vernacular.

The line in the sand’s been imported, too, boot culture divided neatly: mods, rudeboys and Trojan skinheads on one side, and a menagerie of racist bigots on the other.

Not that lines aren’t crossed.

Readers do witness the book/punk/street culture of the time but we also witness the maturing of a teenager into an adult. We see the hurt and the anger that comes with the passing of a friend or the loss of a love. And we see the continual anguish that continues to hurt us no matter how much time passes and causes us to reach for that extra drink or another puff. Yes, empathy for the characters happens quickly because Baillie has documented elements of the human condition in a simple fashion.

Page 76

Debbie is elusive, accompanying Jimmy that spring to the occasional practice, the occasional gig. But nothing more.

I ask Tribal in confidence, see if he has any insight.

“So,” I begin. He’s half hanging out the only window of the single miserable room we share, muttering and cursing as he works to splice our upstairs neighbour’s cable. We rent the room from an old Italian couple – they own the four-storey building and rent out every possible square foot, from the vintage clothing shop at street level to an illegal makeshift firetrap of an apartment tucked into the goddam rafters.

“Pass me the pliers. No, other ones. The red handles.”

I comply and try again.

“So, what’s your take on Debbie, eh?”

“What do you mean, ‘my take’?”

“I mean, why isn’t she around very much?”

But Tribal pulls himself back in and gives me a long hard look.

“Don’t you have a girlfriend?” he says. Then he crawls back out onto the sill.

A warning, and well meant. Staying faithful isn’t what Tribal means, that sort of thing not really a pressing concern amongst our lot. It’s about staying loyal, a reminder about crossing lines. Jimmy’s claim is ambiguous, but it’s there.

As for the girlfriend comment, this not exactly true. Not yet, anyway. But close, I think.

 What We Salvage by David Baillie is a gritty and honest coming-of-age novel. It is frank and brilliant and reflects a reality that is familiar to many of us. A great read.

*****

Link to Chizine Publications’ website for What We Salvage