All posts by Steven Buechler

About Steven Buechler

While I have a media background, I love the concept of reading - especially books - and the quiet forms of discourse it brings. Any reviews I do on here I do on my own time and not-for-profit. My followers - mainly fellow book lovers - tell me that they love the way I show segments of books that I review (and no copyright infringement is intended) I am truly grateful for any advance reading copies of books that I receive and in those cases will not post segments of those books before there publication date. One day soon I hope to actually have a 'library of tranquility' when time and resources allow.

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

Image linked from the publisher’s website

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

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

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

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

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

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

*****

Link to QC Fiction’s website for Tatouine

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

Image linked from the publisher’s website

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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


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


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

*****

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

Understanding the Human Condition One Piece of Flora at a Time | Review of “The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart” by Holly Ringland (2018) House of Anansi Press

Image linked from the Publisher’s website

There is a special bond between flowers and our emotions. We use them to bring cheer and we quietly turn to the beauty when we need to cry. They are an emotional bond for our psyches when we need them. And that is the brilliant bond that Holly Ringland brings to her book The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart.

Page 15

The ritual was to walk to the sea and lie on the sand staring up at the sky. With her mother’s gentle voice telling the way, they took winter train trips across Europe, through landscapes with mountains so tall you couldn’t see their tops, and ridges so smothered in snow you couldn’t see the line separating the white sky from white earth. They wore velvet coasts in the cobblestoned city of a tattooed kin, where the harbour buildings were as colourful as a box of paints, and a mermaid sat, cast in bronze, forever awaiting love. Alice often closed her eyes, imagining that every thread in her mother’s stories might spin them into the centre of a chrysalis, from which they could emerge and fly away.

When Alice was six years old, her mother tucked her into her bed one evening, leant forward and whispered in her ear. You’re old enough now to help me in my garden. Alice squirmed with excitement; her mother usually left her with a book while she gardened alone. We’ll start tomorrow, Agnes said before she turned out the light. Repeatedly through the night, Alice woke to peer through the dark windows. At last she saw the first thread of light in the sky and threw her sheets back.

Ringland has written a well-thought out and detailed story here. Readers witness the life of the protagonist Alice through several different stages in her life. In the midst of Alice’s brutal and hurtful existence at times, there exists the wonder of flora and thrill of nature that provides not only comfort but a means of escape for her. Ringland’s masterful prose and simplistic style makes this book a pleasure to slide into to read.

Page 112

She glanced towards the gum tree, thinking about the names carved into its trunk. The river is another story altogether, June had said when they’d been in the flower field together. It’s belonged to my family for generations. Out family. Alice looked down through the water, at her feet on the sandy bottom. Was a river a thing that could ever be owned? Wouldn’t that be like someone trying to say they owned the sea? Alice knew that when you were init, the sea owned you. Still, the thought that she was somehow a part of this place filled a small space inside her with warmth. Overhead a kookaburra burbled. Alice nodded. Enough thinking. She took a step forward and sank into the swirling green water, leaving all her unasked questions on the surface.

The sweet and absolute absence of salt shocked her. Her eyes didn’t sting. She exhaled bubbles and watched them rise and pop. The heart of the river beat in Alice’s ears. Her father told her once that ll water eventually ran to the same source. A new question bloomed: could she swim down river, through time all the way home?

Ringland has documented strong elements of the human condition here that readers crave to understand about themselves and their lives. This isn’t a book that should be rushed through. It is detailed and well-written and needs to be carefully reflected on. There are elements that she touches on that occur to not only ourselves but to our friends and family members. There are hard truths and mistakes that are part of the protagonist’s story that enable those of us who want understand the world better need to learn about.

Page 265

Alice was grateful for the low light, hoping it hid her face. Lulu dipped her sponge in the suds bucket and began scrubbing the windscreen.

‘You’ve slept with him, haven’t you?’ Alice asked quietly.

Lulu glanced at her. Cast her eyes away. ‘I just don’t want you to get hurt.’

Alice’s head was spinning. She couldn’t bear the thought of them together, of him being with anyone but her.

Lulu wiped the windscreen down and dunked the sponge back in the bucket, sighing. ‘I don’t know what you’ve left behind but I know you’ve come here to put yourself back together,’ she said. ‘So do it, chica. You keep banging on about how much you love my place and would love yours to be like it, but you keep living like you’re a nun. Decorate. Embellish. Use you weekends for adventures, go exploring. There’s so much more around her than just the crater, like there’s a gorge not far from her that you have to see at sunset to believe. So, grow. Please. Grow your life here.’ Lulu pointed to her heart. ‘Don’t give everything you’ve got to someone who isn’t worth it.’

There is detailed growth and wisdom in the book The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland. It’s descriptions are vivid and – if read in a calm manner – depicts elements of the human condition that need to be consider. In short, a brilliant read.

Link to House of Anansi Press’ website for The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Link to Holly Ringland’s website

“I also wanted to create a kind of tribute to people, like Trudy and Claire in the book, who attract and accept responsibility at a young age. I have always been deeply impressed by that.” | Q&A with author Missy Marston on her novel “Bad Ideas”

  • Missy Marston novel “Bad Ideas” has been a topic of conversation in many literary circles since it’s release last year. Most of the conversations have been how relatable how certain scenes and situations are to readers. So Marston has not only worked out a great read but created a piece of art that reflects life for so many people. So it was a thrill for me to have her answer a few questions for my blog

*****

  • 1) It has been a year since “Bad Ideas” has come out. How have you found the response to the novel been so far? Are there any memorable reactions to the book you care to share?
  • I have been thrilled with the response. People have been very kind. It has been especially heartening to hear from people who grew up, as I did, in the Seaway valley. Writing about where you come from can be intimidating and it was a great relief to hear from people who thought I got it right. One person sent me a photo of the book at the original Ken Carter super jump site, which was pretty cool.
  • 2) Was there any particular motivation for you to write the book? I know the character of Jules was loosely based on Daredevil Ken ‘the Crazy Canuck’ Carter and his attempt to jump the St. Lawrence River in the 1970s, but did any of the other characters have any real-life inspiration for you?
  • I grew up in one of the small Ontario towns that was flooded when the Seaway was widened in the 1950s. Remnants of the flooded town were everywhere: sidewalks that led under the water, old stone foundations broken up along the shoreline. My childhood home was right on the banks of the St. Lawrence and from our yard you could see a hump of the old highway breaking the surface of the water, forming a kind of island. That shows up in the book. My house was also just down the street from the ramp that Ken Carter built to jump the river, when I was about eight years old. These things made a big impression on me, obviously.I was motivated to write about these two very disruptive events from a personal perspective, the perspective of a single family of girls and women. I also wanted to create a kind of tribute to people, like Trudy and Claire in the book, who attract and accept responsibility at a young age. I have always been deeply impressed by that.
  • 3) How long did it take you to write “Bad Ideas?” Was it an easy book to write?
  • I wrote Bad Ideas on Sundays – I work full time – over a period of about six years. Some things about the book were easy and some things were very hard. The characters came easily, especially Jules and Mercy, and the basic plot was clear in my mind from the beginning. But it was a challenging book from a structural point of view. I wanted to tell the story from multiple points of view and I also wanted the book to have a lot of forward, plot-driven momentum. These two things can work against each other.
  • 4) You seem to have an active social-media presence. How do you using those platforms to connect with your fans and other writers?
  • I didn’t really have a social media presence until I published my first novel in 2012 and my publicist at the time encouraged me to create a twitter account. A few months later I posted a link to an article I had written about Margaret Atwood and her impact on me and my writing (the main character in my first book is named Margaret Atwood). Not much later – I think within the day – I received an alert that she had retweeted my article. I had to sit down. But that is the wonder and terror of social media. It feels like it erases distance. You meet people once and then you can stay in touch with them forever. You form these connections. People finish reading your book and reach out to you the same day to tell you what they thought. For me, it has been magic.
  • 5) Online listings have two novels accredited to you: “The Love Monster” (2012) and “Bad Ideas” (2019). Has your writing change much since you started? If yes, how so?
  • Writing a novel taught me something about writing novels, if you know what I mean. I think I will always struggle – it is not easy to write a book – but I struggled much less with the second book than I did with the first one. I gave up on the first one many, many times. I lost faith in the story and in my ability to finish the damn thing. When I started writing Bad Ideas I knew I could write a novel because I had done it before. So that’s one difference.In terms of changes to the writing itself, I would say that Bad Ideas is a more direct and focused book. They have a lot in common, though. If you’ve read one, you will recognize the voice in the other. You can tell it’s me.
  • 6) Your biographies have you listed as living in Ottawa. How do you like living there? Are there any benefits to living there that you as a writer enjoy?
  • One of the best things about living in Ottawa as a writer is the Manx Pub on Elgin Street. The great Canadian poet, David O’Meara, works there and organizes regular readings and spotlights. The crowd is always warm, the food and company, great. I was lucky to have the launch for Bad Ideas there. I love Ottawa. I have brilliant friends here, including a small writing group. I met the love of my life here, raised my children here. It is a beautiful place.
  • 7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?
  • Yes! I have sixty solid pages of a new novel written. What can I tell you about it? There is an athlete and an explorer, a villain, and a mythical beast. As with everything I write, there is a love story. I feel like it is going to take forever but I just keep pushing it forward. One day it will be a book.
  • *****
  • Link to ECW Press’ website for “Bad Ideas”

Link to my review for “Bad Ideas”

” I think novelists get a bit squirrelly when reality starts to become stranger than fiction” | Q&A with Writer Mark Sampson on his Novel “All The Animals on Earth”

We are no doubt being cursed by living in interesting times. Many of us readers are looking for something “interesting” to read and pass the time with. And some of us are picking up old projects to bring interesting things to the world. Mark Sampson has been a favourite writer in my library for a while. I was thrilled when I found he has a new novel coming out and he was willing to answer a few questions for me.

****

1) First off, could you give a bit of an overview of All The Animals on Earth?


I describe the story as a parody of a post-apocalyptic or dystopian novel. Whereas most of these tales start out with a fully populated world that sees its numbers wiped out by a plague or war or some kind of bureaucratic mismanagement, mine is the opposite. It starts out with a depopulated world, because in this reality most people just don’t feel like having kids anymore. The cratering birth rates cause all manner of social and economic calamity, and so scientists and the government come up with a process, called “pullulation,” that allows them to transform certain species of birds and mammals into humanoid form. But there is, naturally, a terrible accident that causes pullulation to spread across the globe and basically quadrupling our population overnight.  Suddenly there are too many people on Earth, not too few. 
These new humanoids, nicknamed “blomers,” start taking over, bringing with them very strange and unsettling rituals. These include a rather liberal approach to public sex, and a violence against a particular subset of their own kind. Through it all, my button-down protagonist, an HR manager for a mid-size insurance company named Hector Thompson, grapples with the massive change that the blomers’ existence brings to his job, marriage, friendships and the rest. 


2) Was there something specific in reality that made you want to write this book? And is there a real-life inspiration for your protagonist Hector Thompson?

I got the idea for the story on my wedding day, actually. My wife (novelist and short story writer Rebecca Rosenblum) and I married at a relatively late age – I was 37; she was 34 – and I remember coming to a stark realization that day: everyone in our wedding party, bridesmaids and groomsmen – were all in their 30s and nobody (as yet) had any children. Either they had chosen to have no kids at all, or they were putting off procreating for as long as they could. This struck me as a particular trend of our generation, and so different from what came before, at least in my family. (My paternal grandmother, for example, had five kids by the time she was 27. My own mom had me at 25).  And so I began to imagine what would happen if this trend just got more and more extreme as the generations went on, and the dire consequences it might bring, and how the world might try to solve those problems – and then the whole absurdist narrative began to unfold from there.


As for Hector, no, there is no real-life inspiration for him. But when I was working as a journalist in Australia 15 years ago, I did have, as my “beat,”  the topic of human resources, industrial relations, and occupational health and safety. So I spent a lot of time interviewing HR managers back then, talking to them about hiring, firing, talent retention, benefits and compensation, plus awkward conversations they often need to have with staff about wardrobe choices and personal hygiene, etc. And so a lot of those conversations ended up helping to shape both Hector’s professional life and his personality.  


3) Considering the current situation of the health of humanity, how do you feel about this book?


It’s weird. These are strange times, and it’s stranger still to be releasing a post-apocalyptic book during a global pandemic. A lot of people, especially here in the so-called “West,” are dealing with things they’ve never had to deal with before – not being able to go wherever they want, facing empty supermarket shelves, living with fear for their safety on a daily basis. (Others, obviously, have experienced these things every moment of their lives.) So maybe my weird little book about a rapidly transformed world will resonate on that level.  Having said that, I think novelists get a bit squirrelly when reality starts to become stranger than fiction. I know I felt that way on 9/11 and when Donald Trump got elected US president, and again now, during COVID-19. Writers like Stephen King and Don DeLillo are probably thinking, “Buzz off reality. Stop stealing my moves!”  


4) Normally I would be asking about a book tour at this point, but I am assuming that anything like that is on hold right now. Are you planning to increase your presence on your social media platforms now to interact with fans? If no, why not?

Yeah, no, I have nothing booked as of yet for this novel. No readings, no appearances, no events. I may try to do something online in the interim, but I’m taking a wait and see approach for now. The priority is to stay safe and do what health officials are recommending.


5) We have talked about how your writing has evolved over time. Do you sense any differences with this book compared to your previous works? Do you have any regrets or disappointments  with your earlier works that you notice now?


All the Animals on Earth is much different territory for me. It’s certainly the weirdest thing I’ve ever written, and it really took me out of my comfort zone creativelye. But it’s odd how there are also some alignments with the themes in my other works. I’m very obsessed with people’s working lives. I’m very interested in how people’s inner views of themselves don’t align with how they’re perceived by others, and these themes continue to crop up even in this strange, off-kilter work. I don’t have any regrets per se about previous books, but plenty of disappointments. Like a lot of writers, I’m sad my backlist hasn’t done better, hasn’t sold more or won awards or attracted more attention. But whatever. I just keep on keeping on, trying to build a body of work I can be proud of. Mine is a small but generous readership, and I’m grateful for what I have. 


6) You mentioned in a previous Q&A that you exchange thoughts and ideas with your wife, the writer Rebecca Rosenblum. Did she play a part in the creation of this book? 


Yes, Rebecca read an early draft and, as usual, provided lots of wise and wonderful feedback on the manuscript. Letting her see work once I’ve gotten it to a certain point has become just another part of my process. I do pretty much the same for her, too.


7) No doubt you are working on your next work. Are there details you care to tell your fans about this next work?


After finishing a working draft of All the Animals on Earth, I switched gears and spent about 16 months working on a collection of interconnected short stories that sort of went bust. I got about five or six pieces in and realized they were all structure and no story, nothing there to hold them together, and so last fall I made the difficult decision to set the project aside. Then, almost immediately, I began work on another novel, and I’ve been having a blast with it ever since, working on it like a madman. I’m closing in on finishing a rough first draft, despite having only started it back in October. I can’t say much about it, other than it’s a horror novel set on my native Prince Edward Island. 

*****

Link to Wolsak & Wynn website for “All the Animals on Earth.”

Link to Mark Sampson’s blog “Free Range Reading”

When Our Perceptions Are Forced To Change – Repeatedly | Review of “Akin” by Emma Donoghue (2019) HarperCollins Publishers

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We are all creatures of habit. Our thoughts and beliefs force us into realms of convenience that make us believe our lives are perfect for us. Yet we find ourselves being thrust into situations that force us to change not only our lifestyles but our personal beliefs and understandings. Emma Donoghue has given us a touching example of this example in her touching novel Akin.

Page 4

Was that five pairs of socks or six? He counted them again.

For the past nine years, on his own, Noah had kept himself too busy for vacations. There’d been hints that he should retire, of course; barbed remarks from colleagues, cost-cutting ones from the dean, benevolent ones from women friends, to the effect that Noah should learn to kick back, live a little, join a choir or take up tai chi in Central Park. His little sister, Fernande, was the only one who’d never suggested it, even though she’d retired from her receptionist job with relief at sixty-five. She must have guessed that her widowed brother needed to stay tethered to the surface of the earth. Having classes to teach – the hard slog of preparation and performance and marking – had reassured him of that much.

Donaghue gives us Noah as a protagonist. We meet this ‘still seventy-nine’ as he is packing his bags for a long-overdue vacation to his child hometown of Nice, France. In that opening we engage his thoughts learning that he had a long career in scientific research and academia He is recently widowed yet still has conversations with his wife in his head. His life was settled and contemplative when all of the sudden the phone rings and a social worker begs him to take care of an eleven-year-old great nephew in desperate need of care.

Pages 12-13

“Sorry not to be of more use, Ms. Figueroa” -no trouble remembering the name the crook had given, now, if he took a split second to get the vowels in the correct sequence – “but I’ve got to go now.”

“Please.”

It wasn’t the word but Rosa Figueroa’s tone that made Noah pause, receiver halfway to the cradle. She did should like a real person, and so weary. “It’s just that I don’t see how I can be of any practical help,” he told her. Certainly not in the immediate . . . I’m off to France next week, as it happens. Maybe after I get back we could speak again.”

“This can’t wait. I met Michael for the first time myself this morning. There’s nobody at all to look after him.”

It wasn’t subtle, how she was playing on Noah’s sympathies. He wanted a cigarette.

“Could you come and meet his mother with me, tomorrow morning?”

“But – “

“Let’s all just sit down and put our heads together, all right to see what can be done for this child?”

Noah sighed.

While this an adorable and humorous story, Donoghue has documented truths about the human condition. Not only do readers witness clashes between young and old but we see contrasts between; European and American values, crashes of the actions of the past looked through the lens of modern history, and even gender politics come into play here. This is a book that is enjoyable to read but, if mindfully done, can be an enlightening read as well.

Page 130

“You were asleep forever,” Michael complained.

“It was only a nap. How did you pass the time?”

The boy held up his phone. “Thirty-one kills.”

“Lovely.”

Noah’s generation had gotten more fresh air, he decided, but also probably more fractures, playing such perennial favorites as Johnny-on-the-Pony (in which one team leaped on the backs of the other until the whole human pile crashed to the ground). He wondered now how a gamer like Michael had broken his collarbone.

Emma Donoghue has given readers not only a touching novel with Akin but one that is quietly enlightening about the human condition as well. In short, a good read but one that is thought-provoking if it is carefully done.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Akin

Link to Emma Donoghue’s website

When Emotions Impair Good Judgement | Review of “Bad Ideas” by Missy Marston (2019) ECW Press

We all have looked back at decisions in our lives with regret. Why did we do “x” when “y” was the smarter choice at the time. Yet our emotions and our desires guide our decisions at times that push us into scenarios we cannot escape from. Missy Marston has documented such situations in her novel Bad Ideas in a brilliant and at times humorous means that is enlightening to read.

Page 9 Because they had no right

It was April 1978. Mercy was only four years old and it seemed like the whole town had turned grey. The grey river washed against the grey shore. The grey trees stood against the grey sky, biding their time, refusing to bloom. Trudy and Mercy were sitting in a booth at the back of the Jubilee, and Mercy was peeling the cheese off her slice of pizza and cramming it into her mouth, her little hands covered in sauce. Trudy was smoking, staring past Mercy out the front window of the restaurant, when the door opened and the bells jingled. Two men came in, laughing so hard that they staggered and bumped against each other as they made their way past the front counter.

Both tall. Both lean.

The story deals with a collection of people in a small town along the St. Lawrence River who are trying to etch out an existence while trying to deal with love and the loss of love. We witness Trudy and her mother Claire. They both look after Mercy, the four-year-old daughter of Trudy’s sister, who has faded from the scene. In this muddle milieu, there are some hard looks at relationships and the heartache they create. Everyone seems set in their mindsets until a crazy daredevil shows up in town in a rocket car, preparing to jump the huge river. And Trudy – who is dead set against anything romantic – falls irrationally for the stunt driver.

Page 138

Today was a crying day.

There she was when Trudy got home, collapsed in a lawn chair by the back door, head in hands, crying her heart out. It mad Trudy feel tired to see her there. It sucked the life out of her. She squeezed her mother’s shoulder as she walked past her and into her house. Mercy was kneeling on the couch, a Barbie doll in each fist. She had the dolls facing each other, balanced on the tiptoes on the arm of the couch. She shook them a bit so their hair swung around.

“Grandma’s crying again.”

“I saw that.”

Bad Ideas by Missy Marston is a unique work of fiction that documents a complex reality of human emotions. The writing is simple and direct, making a read that is reflective to many people. In short, a great read.

****

The Uncertainty Of New Truths | Review of "The Electric Baths" by Jean-Michel Fortier/Translated by Katherine Hastings (To be Released July 1, 2020) QC Fiction

cover of book

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

No doubt, we have all been vaulted in a new reality. Overnight, as we go through the current crisis that has us all pushed into an era of ‘social-isolationism’ and ‘economic uncertainty.’ We all sit alone at times pondering our previous existence and wondering how our future will look. But people have been in this situation before, dealing with both the fear and the absurdity of a tense unknown that is beyond their control or understanding. Just like the citizens of the county of *** that Jean-Michel Fortier documents in the novel The Electric Baths.

Long, white, jagged flashes of lightning zigzagged in the sky. At Spencer Wood, Sarah Rosenberg couldn’t sleep, terrorized by the lightning and rain, a troubling combination that evoked in her mind all the bizarreness of the electric baths, of what was slumbering two storeys below, beneath her feet, and that would perhaps awake, would certainly awake, if the thunder rumbled any louder.

Fortier has written an interesting read here. The citizens of this community are dealing with an uncanny series of events and emotions that are puzzling and in many cases hard to define. In the midst of this confusion, there is the return of Louise Beurre – or “Louisa Louis” as she was called on stage. After 13 years abroad, she has come back with stories of stages and spotlights and lost loves. But no one is eager to listen or believe her.

This is a book that should not be rushed through. There are subtle situations and play-on words that provide with brilliant “a-ha” moments to readers who are interested in the human condition and – even more – human thoughts and the human mind. A complex read yet one that is unique.

But, most of all Jean-Michel Fortier’s The Electric Baths, is certainly one read for our times.

*****

Link to QC Fiction’s webpage for The Electric Baths

Busting Out of Rectangles By Using Squares

box

I have found that my local thrift stores have been filled with a certain type of item recently. They are known as shadow boxes or box frames. (IKEA trademarks them as RIBBA Frames.Link here ) Originally I thought that I could use them for displaying Polaroids but when I place them in, they look awkward and confusing. So, I too, tossed them aside for a while. But they were always on my mind so I aimed to photograph for them. And the realization made me ponder something . . . profound.

Most of the items we view the world through is done through rectangles. Our existing photo frames and albums are sized in rectangles. Our electronic devices are framed in heavy black rectangles. When I was involved in media, all the images I used were posted in rectangle shapes. And for those of us living in North America, those rectangles are measured in imperial measurements, giving us even odder sizes and lengths. So forcing me now to deal with a three-dimensional box with exact metric sizes was a challenge. I tried using faces in these frames but again, they look confusing. One would think a face is a simple thing but it is made up of: a nose, a mouth with lips/teeth, two eyes and hair. Take a still of it and try placing it in an item that is 10 cm deep with a smaller square frame inside and the face is muddled and lost. The same happens with landscapes. Yes, there is a horizon but the details – sun, trees, grass, – get pushed back and lost. So this became a puzzle that bugged me for the longest time.

I am having trouble finding the exact quote but photographer Bob Long told us who turn to his brilliant series on Lynda.com that black-and-white photography these days is a way of showing how light works. In that concept, I found a truth that guided me on how to use these frames. An image with a simple white leaf – perhaps with a drop of water on it or a outline of a darker leaf in the background works well now. I am now tempted to a small image with chrome or even a small cloud might work well with these boxes. And there are larger shadow boxes available I am considering in buying and trying out. (Link to IKEA here)

So maybe using the word “Profound” at the the beginning of this piece was a bit pretentious. But the act of looking for an image for these frames make me think a bit of the world and what it is truly in it. And if that isn’t what culture is suppose to do?

 

Coming to Terms with Trauma and Hardship | Review of “Trail of Crumbs” by Lisa J. Lawrence (2019) Orca Book Publishers

Thanks to Lisa J. Lawrence and Kennedy Cullen of Orca Book Publishers for sending me a copy of this book.

Image linked from the publisher’s website

We all have those moments of shock after dealing with a traumatic situation. Somehow we are forced into stillness as our mind tries to deal with the pain and bruises – both real and emotional. This isn’t easy process for a younger person to go through. Not only do they have to deal with those pains, they may not have the network of support to help them deal with the issues they have occurring within themselves. And Lisa J. Lawrence has documented one such young woman’s journey in her novel Trail of Crumbs.

Page 2

During Patty’s flurry of cursing, Greta let herself out the front door, climbing the steps of the concrete stairwell cave. Across the street their neighbor vacuumed the interior of his yellow Volvo, both doors hanging open. He straightened and waved to Greta. He was tall and pale with a nest of ginger hair. Slightly buggy eyes and an open face. Greta recognized him from Ash’s English class. He watched her as if she might stop and talk. She walked faster, checking over her shoulder to make sure he hadn’t followed her.

Greta circled the block a few times, crunching the brittle ice of unshoveled walks. Snow heaped in knee-high dunes on either side. Bleak January afternoon, like the sun never fully rose. Before going back inside, she listened at the bottom of the steps. All quiet.

No one in the living room. Greta tapped on her brother’s door – technically the storage room – and opened it when her didn’t answer.

He lay on a rumpled single mattress, staring at a bare bulb dangling from a wire. The back wall was covered with wide, rough shelves – the kind you’d put boxes or canned goods on. Ash had piled few books there, but the shelves sat mostly empty. No windows. She sat on the bed next to him.

“Why did Dad marry her?” she asked, not really expecting an answer.

Lawrence has created a complex individual in her character of Greta. She is typical of younger adults who have become apathetic towards their education. And with good reason. Her circle of friends have turned mean-spirited and dangerous. Her family life is equally ugly and hateful. And her twin brother Ash is moody and rebellious in his own right. Yet as whatever support units exist to aid her in her life completely fall apart, she finds herself in a day-to-day existence that forces her to seriously consider her future.

Pages 59-60

On Wednesday Greta came home fro her English final to find Ash in a kitchen chair and Nate standing behind him with clippers. Ash’s long brown wisps had fallen in a mesh of hair on the pocked hardwood.

“What are you guys doing?” she asked, peering over Ash’s scalp.

Ash turned proudly in each direction so she could inspect it. Nate had shaved along the sides and back, leaving a longer section down the center.

“What’d you do that for?”

“All the cool kids are doing it,” Ash said.

“Shut up.” Greta flicked the back of his head.

Nate turned on the clippers and touched up an uneven spot.

“Don’t you think it might hurt your chances of getting a job?” she asked.

I’m pretty sure it won’t hamper my ability to lower fries into a deep fryer.”

“Touche”

Ash had applied for three jobs already that week, at two fast-food places and a snow-removal company. Nothing yet. Greta had applied as a cashier at the only supermarket in busing distance and at a place that made cinnamon buns in the mall. The bun place had told her she was underqualified. To bake pre-made cinnamon buns and make basic change. In the post-Christmas retail slump, few Help Wanted signs hung in store windows.

Now that she and Ash had no money, everything was about money. Greta had rationed their last few tomatoes, only to find one spotted with gray mold. She’d waited too long. She felt sick, dropping it in the garbage can.

 

Lawrence has done something interesting here. She has documented the life of Greta well and given young adults a source of empathy to compared themselves to but she has also documented an element of the human condition here. A young adult trying to to come to grips with both growing up and dealing with heavy traumas and abuses. This is a book that is a good piece of literature and a great resource for young adults.

Pages 96

“Why do you care?”

Priya sighed. “Look, I know it’s none of my business. About a year ago, Rachel screwed me over big-time. I know what they can be like I kind of wondered if the same thing had happened to you.”

Greta looked away from Priya. They probably just wanted to see what she would say behind their backs.

“And Dylan” – Priya paused – “I know him too.” Greta snapped back to Priya’s face. “We were together for a few weeks last year. Let’s just say I wasn’t willing to do certain things on, like the first or second date” >I<Things you were willing to do. Slut.>/I< “He didn’t want to wait.”

That shame – waiting in the wings since social studies – crept out of hiding and oozed through her body. She swallowed, her stomach queasy. Like on the morning at the cabin, after the party.

Trail of Crumbs by Lisa J. Lawrence is a brilliant and easy read. She has documented an important element of the human condition of this age year that is well-written and easy to gain empathy from its pages. An interesting read.

*****

Link to Orca Book Publishers Canada’s website for Trail of Crumbs