Category Archives: Canadian Literature

A True Collection of Ponderings | Mention of “Best Canadian Stories 2018,” Edited by Russell Smith. (To be Released October, 2018) Biblioasis

I received an Advanced Reading Copy of this book from the publisher

Best-Canadian-Stories-cover2018.jpg

 

Literature is important  for many of us who seek discourse and dialog about the human condition. We turn to it to gain a better understanding not only about the world but ourselves and our actions. And for those of  us who turn off our electronic gizmos at the end of the day in frustration and turn to literature to calmly and carefully reflect on the state of the world around us,  Russell Smith with the publishing team at Biblioasis has given us a brilliant collection to ponder the state of existence in with Best Canadian Stories 2018.

Noted writer and author Russell Smith has opened this book with a brilliant opening argument about fiction. It not only reflects on the collection well, but gives insight to what many of us feel today. I know I am not suppose to quote from unchecked materials but I lovet his comment and I hope the final copy of the book keeps it in:

Page 9 – Introduction

We all read, now, dozens of news stories, personal stories, arguments and anecdotes every day on our screens, and whether they be Facebook updates or essays, they all claim to be true stories. Fiction has always been good at seeming like a true story too. Often it is. These things are hard to separate.

Autobiographical fiction has always been written. Whole university courses teach “creative non-fiction” that encourage reporters to explore the novelist’s bag of tricks. “Autofiction,” a variant of memoir that takes the form of a novel and does not promise exact truth as a memoir would, has further confused our definitions.

In light of these borrowings, many enlightened people claim that further taxonomy would be useless and unproductive. It absolutely doesn’t matter if a piece is true or not: it should be judged by the same esthetic or moral standards.

. . . When an entire intellectual culture is immersed in the didactic, it loses its ability to see which is not didactic. Art has a role that polemic does not. there is a value to being removed from one’s ideological position for a moment of escape into the nearly-real.

These pieces in this collection are from a combination of new and established writers yet they document a series of emotions and situations that we all have been in one way or another yet may have not been considered or reflected on by us readers. These are not stories that should be rushed through or perused, but admired for the craft, skill and thought that were put into their creation.

So, the collection of Best Canadian Stories 2018, edited by Russell Smith, is a brilliant collection of works for those of us who quietly seek a better understanding of the world around us. It is a must-read coming out of the Fall 2018 publishing season.

 

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for Best Canadian Stories 2018

Link to Russell Smith’s website

 

When Memories Truly Become History | Review of “The Water Beetles” by Michael Kaan (2017) Goose Lane Editions

9780864929662_fc_amazon_1024x1024
Image linked from the publisher’s website

We all have had family members who have enthralled us with stories of their childhood. But for those of us whose ancestors endured the horrors of conflict and war, that enthrallment becomes a stunned silence when we become aware of the hardships and traumas they went through. Michael Kaan has taken the memories of his father growing up in Hong Kong during the Second World War and crafted a unique novel called The Water Beetles.

Pages 10-11

We’re stopped because it’s another hot day, and even the Japanese solders forcing us to march agree we should rest. We’ve stopped by a dense bamboo grove. Despite the soldiers’ warnings to stay visible, I want to be alone, so I’m lying close to the grove’s edge. If I lie on my back and look up, I can see only a small patch of sky, the bamboo stalks are so dense. I can also see the two beetles climbing up a stalk. The little green-and yellow one that is me, with the one leg hooked into the crook of the stem, doesn’t seem to care that he’s being followed.

The greenery reminds me of our grounds back home, of the beds and potted plants that the gardener used to touch so carefully with his tools. It reminds me of the gardens at school and in the city parks, and other things that I worry are gone or I may never see again. At the moment I’m surrounded by plants, the wild and farmed exploding next to each other in the light. There’s nothing gentle about cultivated plants – they dig and drink, and push upward as hard as the wild ones. But I prefer my memories to what is happening now. We have a garden on the roof of our house where my brother and I used to play a lot, before it became unsafe to be up there. It has a chicken coop and a vegetable plot, or at least it did when I left.

This is one of these books that takes a element from the history pages and gives readers a much more in-depth understanding of the events that occurred. Kaan has crafted the memories of his father into the story of Chung-Man Leung, who is coming of age in December 1941. Chung-Man’s life is comfortable and he is curious about the world around him but the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong throws his existence into turmoil as he and his family are faced with a trove of violence and repression.

Pages 65-66

Despite the caution of the adults around me, I caught bits of their conversations and fragments of radio broadcasts, and throughout December I pieced together what had happened to Hong Kong. On December 8, the Japanese Imperial Army, who had invaded northeastern China several weeks earlier and were working their way south, crossed the Shenzhen River that separated the British colony from the mainland. This left them only about thirty miles north of the mainland portion of Hong Kong, and so about forty miles from where we lived on Hong Kong Island. The Allied forces that had assembled there either succumbed or pulled back from the onslaught, and eventually the Japanese penetrated the New Territories into Hong Kong itself. Even as the Japanese moved inward on land, they had already bombed Kai Tak  Airport on the eight, weakening the British. The blasts we heard at my school that morning were the sound of the airport being shelled, the sound of a fatal blow.

I’m recounting this quickly, as if I were reading from a history book, but at the time I knew even less, and the adults around me didn’t know much more. We no idea where the fighting was or what progress the Japanese made each day. We only heard of it as one hears of a change in the weather, that a hurricane or typhoon is coming.

The truth is that one never know enough. Looking back into the past is a lonely game of self-delusion, watching people and events move with an inevitability that never was. the history books tell everything with such certainty. But at the time, nothing seemed inevitable to me. Somethings were impossible or unlikely, something expected, but most of all, beyond the routine of daily life, the world was a mystery. We knew little until it happened.

What makes this book truly memorable is that is a perfect mixture of fact, description and lyricism. That combination makes this narrative that will certain be reflected and pondered upon months after the book is read by many readers. The prose also seems to flow from one section to the next, only changing suddenly when something dramatic occurs. It is a read worthy to reflect and ponder over.

Pages 222-223

A harsh metallic clang woke me the next morning. I ran out of the house wearing only my underwear. A man was running through the streets striking a gong and shouting at everyone to get up. Many people were already out, and I ran back to the house to wake Leuk, Wei-Ming, and Yee-Lin. A half dozen planes flew overhead.

The Japanese had been spotted on the road just before dawn by a civil defence volunteer. The townspeople were unprepared and panic erupted. A man from the neighbouring house said he would fight and shook an old rifle in the air to the cheers of other men.

Yee-Lin was already up and packing our belongings. I got dressed, found my belt, and made sure Leuk had his too. Only Yee-Lin knew about the gold we carried , and we never talked about it. Wei-Ming would be certain to say something if she knew.

“Chung-Man, get Kei and Ming and tell them to come with us,” said Yee-Lin.

“Where to?”

“I don’t know. Into the woods. To a river if we can find a boat. There must be a way out. They may know how.

I went to the kitchen and found them already up and strangely calm.

“It’s the Japanese, isn’t it? said Kei. What should we do?”

“Run. We’re going to try to make it out. Come with use and tell us where to go. Is there a place to hide in the woods, or a boat?”

Michael Kaan has crafted a unique and enlightening piece of literature with The Water Beetles. He has taken his father’s memories and created a story worthy for all us readers to ponder and reflect on. It is a must read for sure.

*****

Link to Goose Lane’s website for The Water Beetles

A Survival Tale But Also One Of Pride | Review of “Moon Of The Crusted Snow” by Waubgeshig Rice (To Be Released Oct. 2018) ECW Press

9781770414006_1024x1024
Image linked from the publisher’s website

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

What if the world as we know ended not with a bang or even the proverbial whimper but with dead silence? All our communication devices fall dead, no goods or services would come in for needs and no health or emergency services would be available. Would we be able to cope and continue? That is the realm that Waubgeshig Rice explores in his new novel Moon of the Crusted Snow.

The book brilliantly opens with the protagonist Evan Whitesky hunting a moose. The winter season is almost upon him and his northern Anishinaabe community and food stocks from the south are expensive. He is grateful that his culture has taught him how to respectfully hunt and appreciate the wilderness around him. As he hurries to finish slaughtering the moose he has captured, he notes that his cell phone has no service. He finds that fact odd but doesn’t give it a second thought. Little does he realize that the outside world has changed, and he, his family and his community are about to be challenged for their survival.

Rice has written a great book about trust, family and survival here but his book gives insight into Anishnaab society and culture. He shows the pride of ways of the people and their beliefs. Rice has written book here covering some important elements of the human condition, that should be considered and pondered upon among serious readers of literature no matter what their background or origins may be.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice is a brilliant read and a unique one. It has a in-depth narrative but also shows a pride in the ways of a culture that is complex and unique. In short, it is a great addition to the 2018 fall collection of new books.

*****

Link to ECW Press’ website for Moon Of The Crusted Snow

Link to Waubgeshig Rice’s website

Pondering Life During The Summer Months | Review of “Warlight” by Michael Ondaatje (2018)McClelland & Stewart

warlight

It has been a while since I posted on here. The summer so far has been long and lethargic. Like many people, the heat has forced me to reflect and ponder my existence on this mudball circling the too-bright orange ball in the expanse of space. And the plot of Michael Ondaatje’s latest coming-of-age novel – called Warlight – proved to be the right meditative device for my mind to reflect upon.

Pages 6 Part One – A Table Full of Strangers

In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals. We were living on a street in London called Ruvigny Gardens, and one morning either our mother or father suggested that after breakfast the family have a talk, and they told us that they would be leaving us and going to Singapore for a year. Not too long, they said, but it would not be a brief trip either. We would of course be well cared for in the absence. I remember our father was sitting on one of those uncomfortable iron garden chairs as he broke the news, while our mother, in a summer dress just behind his shoulder, watched how we responded. After a while she took my sister Rachel’s hand and held it against her waist, as if she could give it warmth.

Ondaatje is the master wordsmith who knows his craft and this book proves his skill. The story deals with Nathaniel and the time of when he comes-of-age of  awareness of himself and the world around him. Set in post-war London, England, Nathaniel and his sister are abandon by their parents and left under the care of a shady character by the name of “The Moth.” Ondaatje divides the plot of the book into two sections: the first where Nathaniel tells the story of he and his sister growing up while dealing with “The Moth” then the second part where Nathaniel – older and we assume wiser – tries to understand and comes to terms with that era of his life.

Pages 31-32 Hellfire

My sister didn’t return until late that night, long past midnight. She appeared unconcerned, barely spoke to us. The Moth did not argue with her about her absence, only asked if she had been drinking. She shrugged. She looked exhausted, her arms and her legs were filthy. After this night The Moth would intentionally grow close to her. But it felt to me that she had crossed a river and was now further from me, elsewhere. She had after all been the one to discover the trunk which our mother had simply “forgotten” when she’d boarded the plane for the two-and-a-half-day journey to Singapore. Now shawl, no cannister, no calf-length dress she could swirl in on some dance floor during a tea dance with our father, or whoever she was with, wherever she was. But Rachel refused to talk about it.

Mahler put the word schwer beside certain passages in his musical scores. Meaning “difficult.” “Heavy.” We were told this at some point by The Moth, as if it was a warning. He said we needed to prepare for such moments in order to deal with them efficiently, in case we suddenly had to take control of our wits. Those times exist for all of us, he kept saying. Just as no score relies on only one pitch or level of effort from musicians in the orchestra. Sometimes it relies on silence. It was a strange warning to be given, to accept that nothing was safe anymore. “‘Schwer,'” he’d say, with his fingers gesturing the inverted commas, and we’d mouth the word and then the translation, or simply nod in weary recognition. My sister and I got used to parroting the word back to each other –  “schwer.”

In a nutshell – and like many writers who document coming-of-age stories well -Ondaatje has given us readers a context in which to compare our own upbringings with. It is an important element of the human condition and reading stories about other people’s childhood helps in coming to terms with our own. And Ondaatje’s well-thought out prose aids in keeping the story alive in our minds as we ponder our days of youth.

Page 135 The Saints

When you attempt a memoir, I am told, you need to be in an orphan state. So what is missing in you, and the things you have grown cautious and hesitant about, will come almost casually towards you. “A memoir is the lost inheritance,” you realize, so that during this time you must learn how and where to look. In the resulting self-portrait everything will rhyme, because everything has been reflected. If a gesture was flung away in the past, you now see it in the possession of another. So I believed something in my mother must rhyme in me. She in her small hall of mirrors and I in mine.

Gifted writer Michael Ondaatje has once again crafted a brilliant work of literature which deals with important elements of the human condition with his latest work Warlight. It is a perfect read to ponder over during lethargic summer days.

*****

Link to Penguin – Random House Canada’s website for Warlight

“The Dark Divide is a bittersweet love story coming back to a more familiar place, allowing the reader to fall in love with the true beauty of Waterton” | Q&A with author D. K. Stone

There are many good suspense novels available and a good-many of them offer sequels to their original story lines. But none seem to offer the unique level of dedication that D. K. Stone offers to her books set in Waterton Park, Alberta. Her first novel ,  Edge of Wild (Link to my review), was gripping enough but now Stone is release the second novel in that series – The Dark Divide (Link to my review). Stone answered a few questions for me about not only her new book but how the level of interest her fans show to her, help her in her writing.

TheDarkDivide&EdgeOfWildTogether

1) First off, could you give a bit of an overview of “The Dark Divide”?

The Dark Divide is the second of a three part series that takes place in the small Rocky Mountain town of Waterton Park, Alberta, and it directly follows the dramatic events of book 1. In The Dark Divide, Rich Evan is on trial for the arson which destroyed the Whitewater hotel he once managed. There is one niggling doubt, however, a single fingerprint—linked to a decades-old unsolved murder—which suggests someone else in town might have started the hotel fire. As police try to uncover who the real criminal is, the danger that this “other” person presents becomes abundantly clear. Louise, the keeper of the town’s secrets, is caught between wanting to help Rich and needing to protect her friends. And when a mysterious stranger shows up, ready to expose these secrets, chaos is unleashed.

2) This is the second book that you have set in the rugged area of the small town of Waterton. How has the reaction been to the first novel. Are there any memorial comments to the first book you care to share?

One of the notes I most regularly received after Edge of Wild was that readers wanted to know “more about Lou”. The Dark Divide is, at its heart, Louise Newman’s story. Her history and secrets shape the story’s plot and her decisions cause the main events to unfold. I was happy when readers were pulled back into her story. “Picking up right where Edge of Wild left off, we are once again pulled into the magic of Waterton…” and “Reading this book was like getting reacquainted with old friends.” But my all-time favorite comment (perhaps ever) is this one that captures everything I wanted to do: “If Edge of Wild was an exploration into the wilderness and unnerving and jagged sharpness of an outsider trying to fit in, The Dark Divide is a bittersweet love story coming back to a more familiar place, allowing the reader to fall in love with the true beauty of Waterton, and an understanding of what warmth can come from such a crisp and cool place.”

It’s reviews like THAT which keep writers writing!

3) You mentioned in your Q&A with me a few years ago that you were going to call this book “Hinterland?” Was there a reason for the change?

You’re right! It was called Hinterland until the very last round of edits with my editor, Dinah Forbes, who suggested that I change the title to create a more evocative feeling. I honestly had no idea WHAT to call it, so I enlisted the help of my readers online. Eventually I had a massive list of possible names. Though none of them were exactly The Dark Divide, a number of them had to do with borders and darkness, and with that nudge in the right direction, I was able to rename. Once I said The Dark Divide aloud, I knew it was ‘right’.

4) Are you planning a book tour with this book? If yes, are there dates you are looking forward to attending?

Given my location in Canada, I tend to do more online book tours, and this year is no different. I’ll be doing a two week online tour with my Street Team. I’ll be posting links to all sorts of content starting April 14th. As for scheduled appearances, I will be at the Stonehouse launch in Edmonton at the Boyle Street Community League April 14th at 7:00p.m., at CrossIron Mills Indigo on June 6th at 5:00p.m. and at San Diego Comic Con (yes – you heard that right!) from July 19th through 22nd. I will have more details on panels as the date nears.

WatertonPic-DanikaStone

5) Have you been working on this book steadily since 2016? Was it a difficult book to write?

A portion of this book actually started off as part of the original first draft of Edge of Wild, but the story was so large and unwieldy that my agent suggested I try to break it in two. I drafted out a plan for two books—found that it was STILL too long—so I added a third, and suddenly I had a trilogy. I picked up those “pieces” early in 2016 and was able to complete the editing process by the end of the year. It was actually significantly easier to write The Dark Divide because it felt like I already “knew” my characters, whereas in book 1, Edge of Wild, I was still trying to get their voices right.

After months of writing and revising, I finally had something I felt comfortable sending to Stonehouse. I was terrified, but quickly heard back from then. They signed The Dark Divide in 2017 and the final polishing began. For those of your readers who are worrying that they take “too long” when writing, keep in mind that the first part of this book was written in 2012. That is quite a gestation from idea to bookstore!

6) How did you like working with Stonehouse Publishing for this book? 

Stonehouse Publishing is a young independent publishing house, with plenty of hands-on connection to its authors. You never feel like a “cog” in a machine when dealing with them, and I received outstanding support for my writing. They knew going in that I was writing a trilogy and they were supportive of that, without pressuring me to a deadline. (I really appreciated that, as I had other YA books on my plate at the same time.) Seeing The Dark Divide in print, I know that I made the right decision to connect with Stonehouse. From editors to designers to promotions staff, they are an incredible group!

7) You mentioned in a previous Q&A that you eagerly interact with readers via the internet and on social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Was that experience true with “The Edge of Wild” and are you eager to interact with fans to discuss “The Dark Divide” in that manner?

Absolutely! One of my favorite things to do is to connect with my readers. A friend of mine beta-read a (new) story of mine the other day and live-tweeted her reactions. I laughed so hard I was crying! That kind of thing just doesn’t happen if you never chat. So, yes! If you’re reading The Dark Divide, I’d love to hear who you think the murderer is. I warn you though… even my editor didn’t see the twist coming, so it might be trickier than you think! (I also won’t tell you if you’re right. Ha ha!)

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

Right now I’m working on a couple young adult novels, one that is a contemporary YA, the other that is scifi YA. I’m also working on the as-yet-untitled book 3 of the Waterton series. On that note, if you have a title suggestion, I’d love to hear it!

Thank you so much for interviewing me, Steven. It was great to chat again!

My pleasure. Good Luck with the launch!

*******

 

Book trailer for The Dark Divide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCZBNt1LlZY&feature=youtu.be

Danika Stone, Author Bio:

Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (The Dark Divide, Edge of Wild, The Intaglio Series and Ctrl Z) and teens (Internet Famous, All the Feels and Icarus). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.

Ms. Stone is represented by Morty Mint of Mint Literary Agency.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Danika_Stone

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/danikastoneauthor/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/danika_k_stone/

Link to the Stonehouse Publishing website for The Dark Divide

The Thriller in the Wilds Continue . . . | Review of “The Dark Divide” By D. K. Stone (To be released April 15, 2018) Stonehouse Publishing

A big thank you to the author of this book for sending me (a fan of her work) an advance reading copy of it to add to my bookshelves.

divide

It is enthralling to loose oneself in a good thriller. After a long day spent, it feels great to slip into a realm filled with intrigue and suspense and become engaged with another unique sent of problems for a while. And D. K. Stone has done that for many us too as she revisits the remote mountain-community of Waterton in her book The Dark Divide.

This story is a continuation of the plot that Stone so brilliantly brought forward in her first book Edge of Wild. (Link to my review) Stone has continued explorations of the frustrations of her protagonist Rich Evans and his stay in the small community of Waterton. He finds himself jobless and listless after the destruction of the hotel he once managed and under suspicion of its arson. Only one person believes in his innocence – local Louise Newman – and although she truly loves him, their relationship comes under severe strain as the suspicion of his actions is called into court and he needs to deal with proving his innocence.

Stone not only weaves a great tale of suspense and intrigue here but she captures great elements of the human condition. We have all encountered some sort of suspicion and fear when we have visited close-knit communities. And her exploration of the troubles between the relationship of Rich and Lou while are troublesome, are very real and familiar to many of us. This is a story that is unique and yet very familiar for many readers.

The Dark Divide is a great read filled not only with suspense but documents some deep-seeded emotions and feelings. It is not only a great read but a unique one as well.

*****

Link to Stonehouse Publishing’s Spring 2018 Catalogue which  features The Dark Divide

Link to D. K. Stone’s website

 

 

 

A Work of Writing That Feels More Like a Good Conversation | Review of “A Generous Latitude” by Lenea Grace (To be Published April 2018) ECW Press

Lat

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

Most of us crave a published work at times that feels like we are having a conversation with a group of friends. When one thinks of those conversations, one often reflects on serious elements as well as goofy comments and moments of quiet pondering. There is something enlightening as well as uplifting to our psyches after those types of conversations. And that is what reading Lenea Grace’s A Generous Latitude feels like. Less like a collection of poetry but more like a good conversation with a good friend.

Grace’s observations here are vivid, at times delightful and sometimes insightful. It is rare to note something like the fact that Guy Lafleur played hockey without a helmet led to his decision to record a disco album. Or that one sharing a video of one’s daughter bowel movement would be lead to a strong social-media friendship. But those are the types of comments that Grace has set in a lyrical yet unique fashion here.

A Generous Latitude by Lenea Grace is a fun yet  enlightening read. It felt comfortable at times and certainly worthy a few moments to read and enjoy.

*****

Link to Lenea Grace’s website

Link to ECW Press’ website for A Generous Latitude

The Enjoyment of a Complex Read | Review of “The Rule of Stephens” by Timothy Taylor (2018) Doubleday Canada

Stephens

We all try to plan our lives out in some order. But those plans are interrupted violently at times by some sort of external force and we are shocked into making new plans for our goals. That transition can be confusing –  and even heartbreaking –   for many of us. That transitional stage is the element of the human condition that Timothy Taylor documents in his book The Rule of Stephens.

Page 13 DIYagnosis

Catherine Bach was thirty-five years old when AF801 went down. In the year prior, she had managed to take a single week off, a poorly considered trip to Cabo San Lucas with a man she’d only been out with a couple of times. Liam. They shared a room, had sex once but wet to sleep in separate beds. He hated the food. They broke up on the plane home, amicably enough, and she hadn’t heard from him since. Other than that, life was work. It had been a single frantic year since Catherine had stopped her practice at the clinic to plow all her still-meagre savings into DIYagnosis Personal Health Systems, a next-generation health-tracking wearable that monitored user vital signs and that would – assuming they succeeded in building and testing the various prototypes – feed back to the user a whole range of vital stats, from blood pressure to respiration rates, BMI, T-cell counts, liver enzymes.

Know your body. Change your world.

This book is a complex read but it is an intriguing one.  The main character is Catherine Bach. Although Bach is a founder of  a start-up biotech firm, she is frustrated that everybody around her focuses their attention that she one of a few survivors of a horrific jetliner accident a few years before. As she deals with both the trauma of the event and the frustrations of rolling out the new product, she finds that her life is guided by events that can be attributed to the works of two archetypal Stephens  – the complex and ordered world of Stephen Hawking or the “paranormal aberrations” of Stephen King.

Pages 7-8

Catherine didn’t like thinking this way. Luck, fate,  destiny. There were conceits, offensive to rational thought and logic. The universe, like the human body, was complex and on occasion surprising. But it remained an ordered and structured thing. The Rule of Stephens, she’d lectured her sister, Valerie, as far back as when they were still in high school. That would be Stephen Hawking or Stephen King. There were the laws of physics and then there was everything else. You had to choose which set of rules explained life best.

Valerie, three years younger and an aspiring stage actress in her teen years, had always seemed faintly dissatisfied with natural explanations. She was then, in Catherine, who shared the same strawberry ginger hair inherited from their mother, the same fine, fair features and intense green eyes. Catherine remembered the lunches she and her sister had shared in an empty chem lab, half an hour over salads they made together before school. Half an hour before Valerie’s friends came to find her and Catherine herself turned to whatever homework needed her attention, whatever book was on the go. She recalled one occasion, running late, a mid-term afternoon in April or May. She’d rushed in flustered and talking already about her English teacher’s marking scheme: so subjective, so lacking in rigour. And there was Valerie wiping away rear, trying to cover up the horoscope that she’d been reading.

Friends can be deceiving. And as Saturn squares with Venus, beware the one friend who . . .

Valerie distraught. Catherine instantly furious. Saturn said no more about Valerie’s chances in love or friendship than it did about Catherine’s English grades. There was this matter of physical causality, Catherine ranted. And since she was also carrying around a copy of A Brief History of Time that year, in the cause of sisterly, protective love she resorted to it. That really was her up at the chalkboard drawing cones that me at their points, trying to explain how the speed of light quite tightly proscribed what could affect a given moment, just as it limited how a given moment could affect the future. Catherine with chalk in her hand, drawing pictures, trying to explain Hawking’s “hypersurface of the present” just as the lab door burst open and Valerie’s drama club friends poured in.

Taylor is one of those rare writers who documents elements of the human condition that are just outside of our perception. Careful readers will note the points he is making through the telling of the story of Catherine Bach in their own lives yet may have never noted the situations of emotions until reading this book. Certainly this is a unique book told by a unique and talented writer.

Pages 92-93

Catherine felt sick, like she’d been punched in the stomach. Oxygen deficiency and a spreading numbness within.

Phil took a big breath. Then he leaned forward and brought his face quite clos to hers. Voice almost a whisper now.

I would never knowingly deceive you,” he said. “I think you know me well enough to believe that. And I’m going to go one step further. I I thin you also know that the time has come to walk away. I know you can do it. You’re the kind of person who can. I knew you before the accident, Cate. And I’ve seen you struggle since. May Morris turns DIY into his billion-dollar unicorn, rides the whole thing to some huge exit. But honestly? Probably a hundred things. In the meantime his offer is a good one and would allow you to step back and think about yourself for a while. Yourself. Your health. Your future.”

Phil the eminently reasonable. Phil who actually cared about her as a person. Phil who, it wasn’t hard to see, under different circumstances for both of them might well have been something more.

Catherine was nodding to herself now. But for all his understanding, Phil still wasn’t getting it. He wasn’t getting what it felt like to have someone swivel their attentions on you, decide that what you had built, what you had cared for, what you had now within your grasp might very conceivably be their own.

“So I sign,” Catherine said. “Your best advice.”

Timothy Taylor has constructed a complex yet enlightening read with his novel The Rule of Stephens. It is definitely not a light read nor is it one that should be rush through. But, like all of Taylor’s other book, it shines a light on a spot of the human condition. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for The Rule of Stephens

Link to Timothy Taylor’s website

A Novel Which Crafts Elements of the Human Condition | Review of “Bellevue Square” (2017 Doubleday Canada) by Michael Redhill

Bellevue

We have all viewed people with mental illnesses of some sort. And we all have had that little voice inside of us that have wondered about our own state of mind. Yet do we ever really considered mental health in regards to the human condition at all? Michael Redhill has certainly given us all something to think about with his novel Bellevue Square.

Page 32

We  all know that bad things are coming. Advice: don’t get too comfortable. Read short books, don’t see your doctor too often. Example of this: on one of my visits to my old GP, Gary Pass, I learned the name for the bony protrusions that had started to poke out of my skull. They were aneurysmal bone cysts, benign. (1997) Then Pass pronounced I had polyps. They flourished in such places as my armpits (2001, 2006, 2010). my cervix (2007), and my rectum (2012). It’s no small thing to have a half-dozen growths fried off your cervix, but I would take that over two in the fundament. Paula, my sister, called the second operation “Fire Below.” She’s been allowed, since 2007, to make fun of my aches and pains because she has a case of the brain tumours. Paula used to live in Phoenix with her husband, Chase, but now she and chase are quits and she lives alone in Phoenix, convalescing or dying. Mine years after diagnosis, the tumour has doubled in size, but she lives on. It’s inoperable. We keep our Skypes on and I have a huge data plan on my phone, which means I can talk to her while I walk down the street if I want. I’m all she has now. Our deadbeat father dies last year, and our mother alternates between Toronto and Key West, where she cures herself to kid leather six months out of the year. Once in a while she’ll go see Paula, but my mother has a life. She says you shouldn’t have to take care of your kids past their eighteenth birthdays.

Redhill has crafted a unique journey for us readers as we follow protagonist Jean Mason in her search for her doppelganger. Her unknown identical twin haunts her thoughts and she begins an obsession to find more about this person. Jean’s journey takes her through a downtown Toronto market and into a park (known as Bellevue Square) where she gets to know the regulars in order to find out more about this mysterious double.

Page 65

Pee, Dog turds, and decomposing mice are only some of the fragrances of Bellevue Square in the springtime. I’d long ago stopped noticing these undertones to the market’s stinky chiaroscuro, but it can be a challenge for first-timers, and when we walked into the park, Ian pulled his head back, as if he could save his nose from going in. “That’s  . . . fucking foul,” he said

Miriam greeted us as we entered.

“Friend of yours?” Ian asked.

“A local,” I said.

“That makes you . . . ?”

“I told you, I got to know a few people over the weeks-”

Months”

“-that I’ve been coming here.” I told him Miriam was a Turkish lady who’d  worked her corner since 1995. I told him how she was the market wet nurse. Ritt wasn’t around from what I could see, and now Cullen had been missing for the better part of a month. The last few things Cullen had talked about before he vanished had unsettled me. He claimed to have invented a drug that allowed him to upload his thoughts into a computer.

This is the first of a “triptych” of novels that Redhill is writing as part of his Modern Ghosts series. And with it he has captured an element of the human condition that; exists, is somewhat undefinable and takes on twists and turns we all at times witness yet do not discuss. This is certainly one of those reads I recommend that should be pondered over and not rushed through in order to appreciate it’s depth.

Page 156

The society of the mad contains primarily other sick people, as well as doctors and nurses. Some family if you’re lucky. I’ve learned that many people here have been here before and will return again. Out in the world they’re burning fuses, a danger sometimes to themselves or others. In here, they shamble, their legs confused on anti-seizure drugs; they wince at their thoughts; their lot in life is revealed to them over and over. They are poor and sick and shabby and hungry.

Michael Redhill has certainly crafted an element of the human condition in his novel Bellevue Square. It is a bold read and one that should be pondered over. In short, a great piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Bellevue Square

 

A Noble Gift I was Touched to Receive | Mention of “The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011” by Michael Harris (2017) The Porcupine’s Quill

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

9780889844070

We all receive numerous gifts throughout the year but the ones that have true meaning are the ones that are carefully crafted  so they become treasured items.  Recently I received a copy of The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris from the dedicated publishing firm of The Porcupine’s Quill. And it will become a loved item for my personal library shelf.

Work (Excerpt) – Page 157

My seven-year-old fishing

for the first time, in the murk, perfect

pike somewhere else, not here. The

mobile rings, his mum asking

everything OK? Better take some

chicken out for supper. Poems somewhere,

and rainbows. Rainbows!

I received this volume in the mail on a Friday and spent a lot of my leisure time over the following weekend with it. I love Harris’ expressive prose and lyricism in this collection. It was a warm and enveloping feeling to read a phrase that he has crafted and then come to the realization that I had been in a similar situation or had a similar feeling that he had been describing in his works. I found myself repeating phrases out loud because they were such vivid expressions that I could relate to.

The Patient – Page 15

I am here and afraid; my body

scooped out and laid in thin

rubber. the tubes like thermometers

in my body’s weather; they fill me

 

with bread pale as clean cotton.

I reduce it, reduce everything

to liquids in what’s left of my stomach,

in what’s left of my mind.

 

In the softest, quietest ways I am broken

into parts; one a day, once a day, they

come and play with me, with red sacs

and white sacs and murmurings and measurements.

 

They clean me like a fingernail

where the quick starts to sting

and they will not stop.

The Porcupine’s Quill in Erin, Ontario, Canada always publishes such detailed works with dedication and clarity that it is a pleasure for any book fan to pick up one of their works and slip away from the world in an intellectual fashion. Their stock is always of highest grade and any illustrations they use are detailed and well-thought out.

The Watchmender, Paros – Page 83

Something’s broken,

and they don’t know what.

These are the watches

their grandfathers brought –

the springs so thin now

they’d snap at his touch:

and they expect them fixed.

 

Under the small shop lamp,

his two differing eyes work hard

against each other: the clear one

fastened to his optic lens –

the wayward other, wandering with disuse,

dimly taking in the villagers

whose shadow pass his window,

or stand before him, waiting.

 

He bends like a priest

by the deathbed candle,

to attend to the useless glow

of jewels sunk deep

in almost-dead works,

like rosaries of stars

that won’t wear out.

The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011 by Michael Harris was a truly remarkable and touching gift I received from The Porcupine’s Quill. Harris’ words and well-crafted and expressive and the book is printed on wonderful stock. It is an item I will cherish and keep.

*****

Link to The Porcupine`s Quill website for The Gamekeeper: Selected Poems 1976-2011