Monthly Archives: May 2017

Losing that One Person in Our Lives | Review of “So Much Love” by Rebecca Rosenblum (2017) McClelland & Stewart

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There is that one person in our daily lives that is important to us. It could be somebody very close to us or just somebody that we see on a day-to-day basis yet never give a second thought too. But remove that one person from our lives and our something in our psyche is vaulted into a state of shock. That is the theme Rebecca Rosenblum brilliantly explores in her novel So Much Love.

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Just before the winter semester wrapped up at the end of March, one of my Canadian Poetry students disappeared – not just from my class but also maybe from the earth. Catherine Reindeer left the restaurant where she worked at the end of a day shift, but she didn’t come home that night, or any night since. They found her purse in the parking lot the next morning. She was a good student, good enough that she didn’t need me to review her essay topics or suggest background readings. But she was chatty and didn’t seem to have friends in the class, so sometimes I was the recipient of her thoughts on Gwendolyn MacEwan, Michael Ondaatje, Julianna Ohlin. She spent a lot of time reading the biographical notes at the backs of books, always interested in discussing whose marriage had been happy, who worked a day job in addition to writing. She was – is? – a pretty girl, confident, a bit older that the rest. She had a husband, the newspapers said, unusual for an undergrad. I don’t remember a ring. I liked talking to her, but I didn’t know her well. Now that’s she’s gone, I think of her constantly.

Rosenblum has given readers an important element of the human condition to consider over in this book. The main focus of the plot deals with the disappearance of Catherine Reindeer. Readers witness the internal thoughts and struggles of many people that Catherine touched in their lives –  from people who were close to her to people who merely worked with her – and we get true look at how interconnected humans are and fragile the human psyche can be.

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Heading home at the end of the day, I get that familiar homesickness just before I arrive. After a tough day – and now that I’m in my forties, I’m starting to feel like they’re mainly tough days – I still want to just spill it all out to Gretta and see if she can tell it back to me like a bedtime story. This desire has been growing all summer and fall, maybe since the beginning of spring when Catherine Reindeer first vanished, or since we each realized the other was devastated by the loss of this stranger. Or near-stranger. Maybe that was just one agony too many; we are kinder to each other now than we’ve been in years. We still don’t talk much, but her face when she’s genuinely listening to me is a comfort I could fall into. I don’t need advice, or any kind of commentary – after fifteen years, I know what she would say almost as well as what I would. This far into paying off the martial mortgage of intimacy, niceties like “How are you?” have become irrelevant – I know how she’s doing by the way she swallows her first mouthful of coffee in the morning, the rhythm of her stride on the stairs. In the evenings, we sit on opposite side of the living room, the rasp of pages from our respective books the faintest of communications. It is a kind of love, and a kind of loss too. I remember when we would have at least told each other what the books were about.

Rosenblum does a great job with this book of breaking down complex thoughts and emotions of the human psyche and gives those of us who want a careful and conscience read something to ponder over. The different sections of the book have single plot lines, yet the descriptions are vivid and memorable. Definitely a book that should not be rushed through while reading.

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The search went on for three freezing hours before they were given one last round of tea and Timbits and told to go home. No one found anything useful, or not that Kyla heard about. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on with everyone spread out in the trees and dark like that.

In Dermott’s truck on the way home, he hummed a few bars of “Amazing Grace,” but when she didn’t join in, he quit and tapped her knee with his big hand.

“It’ll be okay, Ky. Our heavenly Father is watching.”

She pictured God lying on his couch, watching all their suffering on a flat-screen TV, and didn’t understand why that was suppose to make her feel better.

After the night of the search party, Kyla cam home right after school the rest of the week. It didn’t feel safe to be out alone. Everyone was tense, darting eyes and locked car doors all over Iria. Even if she walked to Starbucks at lunch with Britt, they moved quickly, didn’t linger out front with the other kids, and checked over their shoulders.

So Kyla stayed home, read Ivan Ilych over again, and took notes while Jaycee practised her awful piano downstairs. The picture on the front of the skinny book was of an old man, some artist’s idea of how Ivan looked. Ivan, at the end of his life, seemed sad and exhausted, but that wasn’t the interesting part of the book or the character to Kyla. She thought about poor Ivan as basically a decent person who worked hard but didn’t really know what was important in life or how to find out. The scary part was that he could live his whole life and not even be interested in love or being loved, and die that way.

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum will certainly be one of the most profound and in-depth reads I experienced so far in 2017. She has captured an element of the human condition and documented well here, certainly making me reflect and discuss this book on numerous occasions. Truly a gifted piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for So Much Love

Link to Rebecca Rosenblum’s website

Link to my Q&A with Rebecca Rosenblum – “(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?”

 

(T)he novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood. | Q&A with author Catherine Graham on her first novel “Quarry.”

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Catherine Graham’s poetry has won numerous awards and garnished huge praises from all sorts. Now Graham has turned her skilled craft towards a novel, something many people have been eagerly talking about in many of my circles. Graham was kind enough to answer a few questions about her first novel “Quarry.”

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

It’s a fictional account of what an introverted young woman discovers about herself on a journey that starts with an idyllic upbringing with her parents in a house beside a water-filled limestone quarry and moves through tragic loss, love and the family secrets that emerge.

2) This is your first published novel. Was there much of a ‘jump’ for you from writing poetry to writing a novel?

Yes and no. The imagery that powers my poetry is still present in the novel, but writing prose has so many more opportunities for detail and well, completeness. Some readers of early novel drafts were also fans of my poetry and I wasn’t sure how they’d like the book. Thankfully the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. I think I was able to find the right balance between the lyricism of poetry and the narrative form demanded by long prose.

3) Was there something specific that inspired you to write this novel?

Ultimately, the novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood. Those who know me will see parallels with my own life, but Caitlin Maharg’s story is not mine, nor is mine hers. So I guess you could say the inspiration for the novel has been with me forever.

4) “Two Wolves Press” seems like a unique publishing house. How did you get involved with them?

Alexandra Leggat is a fellow instructor at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies. She started Two Wolves Press with a fiercely independent desire to publish a few carefully curated books each year that would bring fresh voices to the Canadian literary scene. Having Two Wolves pick up Quarry for publication was a match made in heaven. I loved Two Wolves’ approach to publishing and thankfully, Alexandra loved Quarry. (Link to Two Wolves Press Blogspot site)

5) Are you planning any public readings/discussions of “Quarry?” If yes, any specific dates that you are excited to be partaking in?

The novel launches June 1 at The Tranzac Club in Toronto.  IFOA and Two Wolves Press have partnered up for the event as part of the Toronto Lit Up book launch series (Link to the event’s website here). After a short reading, Mary Lou Finlay, radio and television journalist, will interview me on stage. There will also be music from the soundtrack of the novel and other special features. Then on June 4, I’ll be doing a Q & A at the Calgary Memorial Library as part of Spur Festival Calgary. (Link to event’s website here)

I’m thrilled to be partaking in both events and all are welcome to attend. I’m also looking forward to reading in the UK this August as part of The Shaken and the Stirred group—readings in London, Manchester, Edinburgh Festival Fringe (Link here), Seamus Heaney HomePlace, Belfast’s Linen Hall Library and Bangor’s Open House Festival.

6) You mentioned in a past Q&A a few years ago that you just signed on to Twitter. And you have an active role on Facebook. How do you like using social media in relation to your writing?

It’s interesting you should ask. Social media was a bit of a foreign landscape to me at first, but it’s actually more fun than I thought it would be. To that end, I’ll be making some exciting changes to my social media presence in the near future, so stay tuned to the website (www.catherinegraham.com), Twitter (@catgrahmpoet) and Instagram (catgrahampoet) to see what’s cooking.

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

Right now, I’m focused on making sure people enjoy the novel launch and know where they can get a copy of the book (Ben McNally’s Bookstore in Toronto (Link here) and Shopify (Link here).

But regardless of how busy I am, scribbled ideas always seem to be appearing in my notebook, so in a way, you could say I’m already at work on the next novel. Or poetry collection. Or something. Speaking of poetry, my seventh collection, The Celery Forest, will appear this fall with Wolsak & Wynn. (Link to their website)

Author Bio:
Catherine Graham is the author of five acclaimed poetry collections. Her most recent collection, Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects, was a finalist for the Raymond Souster Award and CAA Poetry Award. Winner of the IFOA’s Poetry NOW competition, she teaches creative writing at the University of Toronto where she won an Excellence in Teaching Award. Her work is anthologized in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, Vol IV & V, The White Page/An Bhileog Bhan: Twentieth Century Irish Women Poets and has appeared in The Malahat Review, Gutter Magazine (Scotland), Poetry Daily (USA), The Glasgow Review of Books, Poetry Ireland Review, The Ulster Tatler, The Fiddlehead, LRC, Southword Journal (Ireland), CBC Books and elsewhere. International reading venues include Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 and 2017, University of Westminster, Bowery Poetry Club NYC, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (Manchester), 4th International Congress of Language and Literature Linares (Mexico), Seamus Heaney HomePlace (Northern Ireland) and the Thessaloniki International Book Fair (Greece). She publishes two books in 2017, her sixth poetry collection, The Celery Forest, and her debut novel, Quarry. Visit her at www.catherinegraham.com.

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Link to Catherine Graham’s website

Link to Two Wolves Press Blogspot site

‘What I do now will cause . . .?’ | Review of “Me (And) Me” by Alice Kuipers (2017) HarperCollins Canada

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(I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book. I will add pull-quotes to this review once I get my hands on a true printed copy.)

It is never easy of any person to make a decision, let alone one that needs to be made at the spur of the moment. Consequences need to be considered to words said or actions  made which may  have long lasting results. And for  an adolescent, those decisions  can be heart-wrenching, especially if their young minds are already guilt-ridden  from past traumas.  That is  one of the major themes Alice Kuipers brilliantly explores  in her book Me (and) Me.

The story of the book deals with Lark, a young girl who is just in the process of celebrating her seventeenth birthday. She has mixed feelings about the day, since it brings back memories of her mother’s passing a few years ago. Readers witness Lark’s day  starting off in a well-enough manner; The sky is clear. She has just finished writing a ‘kick-ass’ song for the band and she has a date with the gorgeous and Alec out by the lake. Alas, things  take a turn for the worse when a neighbourhood girl begins to drown and Alec gets himself into trouble as well trying to save little Annabelle. Lark is in a quandary as she tries to decide which one of the two to save.

Kuipers uses the concept of parallel universes in this book in a brilliant fashion to explore the roles of cause/effect. Reader’s witness the two Larks – one where she save little Annabelle from the depth of a lake and suffering from a long-lasting coma AND the other where she saves Alec from the same fate. Both Larks are guilt-ridden by their decisions and their guilt becomes overpowering that they both act out in different manners.

Alice Kuipers’ Me (And) Me is truly a unique read. The book does an excellent job in exploring cause/effect roles in the actions of human beings. A great read and an enlightening one for the younger set.

*****

Link  to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Me (And) Me

Link to Alice Kuipers’ website

Link to my Q&A with Alice Kuipers about Me (And) Me – (M)y books often explore how writing and creativity give my characters tools to deal with the world

 

 

 

“As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes” | Q&A with writer Mark Sampson on his new novel “The Slip”

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I don’t think I am alone in stating that the world that is now enveloping us feels a bit too fast-paced and artificial. So it may be time to take a step back and look what that realm is truly like. Writer Mark Sampson has given us a starting point for us readers for pondering and discussing our actions in the era of super-hyped-up mass media in his latest novel The Slip. Sampson was kind enough to answer a few questions for me about the new book.

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1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of The Slip?

Sure. The novel is about a fictitious University of Toronto philosophy professor and public intellectual named Philip Sharpe who appears in a nationally televised debate with one of his fiercest rivals, a right-wing newspaper columnist named Cheryl Sneed. In the heat of the debate, Philip ends us saying something wildly inappropriate to her as a woman, which gets captured on live TV. His “slip” quickly goes viral on social media, and the fallout becomes a kind of catalyst to expose all the cracks and problems in Philip’s marriage to his much younger, stay-at-home feminist wife, Grace.

There is a somewhat off-kilter constraint on the story that complicates Philip’s situation. He actually says two inappropriate things during the TV debate – the sexist dig at Sneed, but also an earlier comment that is philosophically inconsistent with the beliefs and ideas which Philip has built his entire reputation on as an intellectual. Ever the “absent-minded professor,” Philip spends a large chunk of the novel thinking that the world is in a rage at him over the earlier remarks rather than his misogynous comment at Sneed. It’s a 200+-page obliviousness that is (at least I hope) played for comic effect; but I hope it also points to some heavier ideas about how our words can sometimes cause harm without us realizing it.    

2) Am I correct in assuming that this book is a bit of departure from your previous writing? If yes, how so? Was there anything specific that made you write this book?

It’s a departure insofar that The Slip is a straight-up comic novel in the tradition of, say, P.G. Wodehouse or Evelyn Waugh or Kingsley Amis. It doesn’t have the darker, heavier tones of my previous novel, Sad Peninsula, which was about (among other things) the legacy of sexual violence enacted against Korean girls and young women during World War Two. Still, I think The Slip does touch on some serious matters. It’s about gender dynamics; it’s about the division of labour in a modern-day marriage; it’s about the double-edged sword of social media; it’s a gentle ribbing of academic culture and media culture and Sunday brunch culture of well-off urban yuppies. I like to think that the novel casts a fairly wide satirical net.   

 

3) I know we have talked about The Slip in our last Q&A but how long did it take to write this book? Is there anything you are hoping this book will accomplish?

The characters of Philip and Grace, and their problematic marriage, have been rattling around in my head since at least 2007 or 2008. As I grew more and more aware of the way social media can really amplify public gaffes, I began to see a comic story emerge about how a situation could really put this marriage on the ropes. Once I committed to actually nutting out what happens and sitting down to write it, the book took about two years to complete.  

4) Is there a book/reading tour scheduled for The Slip? If yes, are there any events you are looking forward to participating?

 

Still very much (To Be Discussed) at this point. I do have the Toronto launch booked for the evening of May 31 at Ben McNally Books (come on out, Torontonians, if you’re reading this (Link to the Facebook page for this event)) and one other event planned for my hometown of Charlottetown. Hopefully other events will materialize in the near future.

5) Are you working on any new writing right now or are you taking a break for a bit?

 

Yes, I just finished a very rough first draft of a new book, a kind of a parody of a post-apocalyptic novel. It’s about overpopulation, set in an alternate version of Toronto where the subways are always packed and everyone lives in tiny, overpriced condos. Horrifying, terrifying stuff. I’ve also been working on a new poetry manuscript, as well as a lot of literary criticism. I don’t tend to take too many breaks from writing. I have so many ideas and a finite number of years to get them all out.

 

6) Many of the followers of my blog mention to me that they enjoy interacting with writers over social media. You hinted in the last Q&A you did with me that “The Slip” deals a bit with the darker side of social media but you also mentioned that things like Facebook and Twitter play only a small part in your writing. Do you still believe that?

 

Yes, absolutely – probably more so. There is no doubt that social media has its dark side, with the capacity to bring out the very worst in some people. Can we deny that this is the case, here in this Trumpian age?

7) I am curious about the dynamic that you and writer Rebecca Rosenblum have? I see that you both often post reviews/interviews of each other’s work on social media, but do you both read/discuss/critique each other’s work as well?

 

Indeed. For your readers who don’t know, Rebecca Rosenblum is my wife. (Link to my Q&A with Rebecca Rosenblum  –“(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?” We do take a lot of pride in sharing around each other’s good news on various social media channels. We do read a lot of each other’s work in draft and offer feedback and support whenever we can. It’s pretty great, actually, to have a smart, talented fellow writer living under the same roof to offer a critique on something I’m writing. Sometimes what we can offer each other is a thorough, engaging edit on a story. And sometimes what we can offer is simply the most important thing any author can hear during the writing process: Keep going!    

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Link to Dundurn Press’ website for “The Slip”

Link to Mark Sampson’s Blogger site “Free Range Reading”