A Novel that Gives Readers Definitions to Complex Social Ills | Review of “Brother” by David Chariandy (2017) McClelland & Stewart

Brother

There are terms that social scientists and politicians throw around to describe our society and it’s illnesses. But those terms are meaningless if one cannot understand what those terms truly mean. A good piece of literature should create empathy to a social situation with it’s readers and create a better consciousness about our society. And that is what David Chariandy has done with his novel Brother.

Page 1

Once he showed me his place in the sky. That hydro pole in a parking lot all weed-broke and abandoned. Looking up, you’d see the dangers of the climb. The feeder lines on insulators, the wired bucket called a pole-pig, the footholds rusted bad and going way into a sky cut hard by live cables. You’d hear the electricity as you moved higher, he warned me. Feel it shivering your teeth and lighting a whole city of hear inside your head. But if you made it to the top, he said, you were good. All that free air and seeing. The streets below suddenly patterns you could read.

A great lookout, my brother told me. One of the best in the neighbourhood, but step badly on a line, touch your hand to the wrong metal part while you’re brushing up against another, and you’d burn. Hang scarecrow-stiff and smoking in the air, dead black sight for all. “You want to go out like that?” he asked. So when you climbed, he said, you had to go careful. You had to watch your older brother and follow close his moves. You had to think back on every step before you took it. Remembering hard the whole way up.

He taught me that, my older brother. Memory’s got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory’s the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power.

“And if you can’t memory right,” he said, “you lose.”

This has been a notable book on a number of lists now – being nominated and winning numerous awards and the book that the London (Ontario) Public Library is encouraging its members to read right now. (Link to the One Book, One London webpage hosted by the London Public Library). This is a book that gives one pause to consider urban angst and poverty in ways most people may not understand. Readers are vaulted into the lives of Michael and his older brother Francis. They are both trying to come to terms with their Trinidadian heritage while living on the outskirts of a major urban centre. They deal with a barrage of prejudices and “low expectations” because of who they are and the colour of their skin.

Pages 46-47

“A girl,” said Mother, as if to herself, “A sleeping child.”

Since witnessing Anton get shot, Francis had been a zombie, his eyes glazed and evasive. But Mother’s words appeared to shake him awake. For a second he met my eyes, but then dropped his. Mother was now staring at him.

The cops reassured her that we were not under investigation. Already there were leads on the names and whereabouts of the suspects, but since we had been in the vicinity of the shooting, they might want to interview us as the case developed. They voiced concerns about Francis’s connections to some of the suspects. Mother nodded and said twice that her boys would cooperate fully. The cops encouraged her, also, to get in touch if she felt she could offer any relevant information. It would all be anonymous, they insisted. Our identities would be protected.

“We will cooperate,” said Mother again. “We promise. Thank you, officers.”

She continued thanking them as they walked away. And then she held the door open for Francis and me to go inside. She shut the door very carefully behind us and took her time letting go of the handle. She seemed to muster all of the energy in her body just to face us.

“You will . . . tell me . . . everything,” she said.

Chariandy has a direct style here but the book gives a vivid description of a life of a young urban man trying to find his place in a cruel world.  It is a small volume of a book but deserves complete attention by any serious reader. The settings he describes alone are so true and feel so alone. This is a must read for any person who believes in the power of literary empathy.

Pages 90-91

Jelly must sense my wariness towards him, because shortly after the tea, he leaves without a word. Through the window, I see him pass Mrs. Henry, who stops to stare before shaking her head and muttering something disapproving to the invisible congregation of souls forever accompanying her. If Jelly can hear the rebuke, he very wisely doesn’t respond and continues walking down the avenue. He’s taken his backpack, and for a moment I wonder if he’s left for good. Should we have tried to talk? Ten years and not a single word between us. Should I at least have said goodbye? I feel more relief than guilt. But in a couple of hours he returns with his backpack full, as well as two plastic bags of groceries in his hands. And there’s another surprise.

He can cook.

He moves fluently through the inexpensive ingredients he’s bought, bags of vegetables as well as dried peas, rice little containers of seasonings he produces from his backpack. He chops like a chef, the sharp steel edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the edge loud and quick upon the wood. Soon he’s got the entire kitchen in chaos, no free space on the counters, all stove elements on. Mother has begun to pitch in too, and she sorts dried peas at the kitchen table, dropping them into a ceramic bowl with the sound of small pebbles. Even Aisha is participating, fetching pots and pans, washing vegetables in a big colander at the sink.

Brother by David Chariandy is a novel that gives definitions to many of the social ills we hear about. It is not only a book that should be read or pondered over but discussed in great detail. In any case a great piece of literature worthy of it’s many accolades.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for Brother

Link to the London (Ontario, Canada) Public Library’s website for the One Book One London project

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s previous book Soucouyant

 

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

Getting Caught into Watching Television | Review of “Caught” by Lisa Moore (2013) House of Anansi

9781487004545

There is something engaging when we read a book and then watch a movie or a television show based on that book. Many of us readers do enjoy comparing and contrasting the plot lines from the two medium. And as the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation prepares to air the latest production that comes from a work of fiction – Lisa Moore’s Caught – many of us readers are already familiar with the book and are keen to see it come to the screen.

Page 21 A Room with a View

Slaney walked up the wheelchair ramp that let to the side entrance of the bar. From there he had a view of rows of cabbages and fields of hay. The clouds tumbled backwards in folds and billows all the way to the horizon.

The door was held open a crack with a stone and it was very dark inside and stank of beer and cigarettes. Someone had been smoking weed. There was a yellow cone of light over the pool table at the far end of the room.

The bartender was a scrawny woman with long silver braids tied at the ends with read glass bobbles. Her skin was tanned dark and her eyes were pale blue. She ware bibbed overalls and had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the cuff of her white T-shirt. Two pairs of eyeglasses hung from chains around her neck. She was emptying ashtrays form the night before.

If you’re here fro the dart tournament it was yesterday, she said.

Harold sent me, Slaney said. He said maybe there was a room I could crash.

Harold say anything about child support for his three youngsters by two different  mothers? The woman asked.

He never mentioned, Slaney said. She reached under the bar and shoved some things around on a shelf and came back up with a key on a wooden fob. She sent it sliding down the bar toward him.

There is something direct and bold in the story that Moore created in the story of David Slaney and his escape from prison in June 1978, but there is also something about the human condition that she has brought forward here. Yes, we get antics of a man on the run but at times we get the thoughts, fears, longings, hurt,  and other deep emotions that many of us endure in our day-to-day lives. It is going to be interesting to see if viewers of the TV show will empathize with Slaney and readers did with the book.

Page 109 Jennifer, Juniper

Before the first trip, they’d had their big goodbye on the sidewalk outside Jennifer’s Gower Street apartment, the Jamaican flag hanging in the upstairs window, sopping K-Mart flyers out the mailbox, her tears wet on his neck while she held him.

Jennifer had thought Alberta, not Columbia. Slaney had said he was going to Alberta for work and as soon as he landed a job he’d send for her and Crystal. He’d have a nice house set up for them he’d buy them everything they’d ever wanted, all the furniture and clothes and toys they could imagine. Jennifer wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore.

Slaney had bent down by the stroller and pulled out Crystal’s pacifier and kissed her and stuck it back in before she had a chance to scream for it. And Jennifer stood there on the sidewalk, one hand on the stroller, pulling it back and forth, waving with the other. She kept waving until the car had disappeared around the corner.

Moore’s descriptions in any of her works are vivid and direct and that is true of this book too. Any reader can visualize any scene or any emotion easily. And the story is bold yet unique. One can feel empathy for Slaney no matter what the situation that he finds himself in to be. In any case the book is a good read and the show should easily mirror the book’s great qualities as well.

Page 147 Skills

After four weeks and five days at the Mansonville cabin Slaney’s new passport was ready. He went to the office and picked it up, along with the driver’s licence and the birth certificate he’d mailed in, and then headed to the rain station and bought a tiecket.

The formality of the photography studio and the blast of the flashbulb had rendered an unfamiliar look in his passport photo. It was an odd angle. Something, perhaps the false name, made Slaney feel like he was not himself.

The large white umbrella in the studio had been set up to bounce light and there was the need to be unsmiling. There was a look of bafflement.

Bafflement is a precursor to wisdom, was that the picture made him think. The picture looked like someone who would have to wise up. They were embarking on the next adventure. They were going to be rich. Look out, world. The guy in the photograph was him and was not him.

The picture said, Look out.

Or it said: Bon voyage.

While it should be an interesting show, most book-fans will be eager to make comparisons to it and Lisa Moore’s book Caught. The book is bold and a unique read, which the show should be able to follow in it’s own right.

*****

Link to House of Anansi’s webpage for Caught

Link to the CBC’s website for the television series Caught

 

RIP William Whitehead | MT of “Words To Live By” by William Whitehead (2012) Cormorant Books

words

I have been thinking recently that there is something missing in a lot of our cultural products these days. While there is passion and drive in a lot of what we read and view, there seems to be a level of dedication to craft something for people to ponder and reflect over. This thought really became apparent to me when I learned of the passing of William Whitehead. “Bill” had been a small fixture to many of cultural items I remember from my youth – from the number of Nature of Things documentaries he wrote for to being loving partner to noted Canadian writer Timothy Findley. And his 2012 biography Words to Live By documented his dedication to his crafts and his loves.

Blurb – Back dustjacket

So – who is William Whitehead?

You probably know who Timothy Findley was – an internationally renowned writer know to friends and family by the initials of his full name: Timothy Irving Frederick Findley – Tiff. And if you ever attended one of his public appearances – a reading, a talk, a book signing – you may have noticed someone hovering nearby: someone tall, with a big smile, brown hair and eyes, carrying a bit too much weight and wearing a pen on a cord around his neck.

That was me.

While I had the pleasure of meeting Bill a few years ago, I had often seen him at Findley’s public events always giving a hand or a nudge when needed. But his dedication to life in general shone through in biography. Yes, he was “the guy” in Findley’s life but when I read his book, I realized how many documentaries and shows I had witnessed that Bill had been involved with. His work had influenced me, even when I never even noticed his name on the credits.

Words and Pictures  – Page 179

Another of the writer’s jobs was to devise a title, something I enjoyed. For a Nature of Things on the relationship of bodily fluids to the salt was from which we evolved, I suggested “Blood, Sea and Tears.” For a series on the uncertainties of youth employment” “Future Tense.” Once, when I was asked to write a script for a short film on the creation of soundtracks for dramatic films, I turned the job down, telling the producer that his documentary didn’t need a script. He was appalled. “But how will the audience be able to understand what’s going on?” I explained. Most of the film was split screen – half showing the dramatic action and half displaying the sound man creating the final soundtrack: coconut shells on sawdust-filled pads for hoof beats, smashing a cabbage onto a table for a blow to the head, etc. Then I said, “Look. Instead of hiring me to write a script, how would it be if I simply gave you a title and a subtitle, free of charge?” He was puzzled, until I told him what I had in mind: Track Stars: The Unseen Heroes of Movie Sound.

The unscripted film won a nice award – and certainly not because of the title alone. It was a good piece of work.

But, of course, Bill was involved with Findley and played an important role in his life and his work. In this book, Bill documented his relationship well, talking about the good times and the bad. More importantly he showed us that love – not matter who that person is – must be endured, and the reward for that endurance is a trust and companionship that comforts our existence through this life.

Words To Die For – Pages 214 – 215

As every successful writer knows, he is expected to do much more than just write the words. He must also help to sell them. this means weeks on the road, or on the water or in the air – living in hotels, rushing from interview to interview, often sacrificing lunch or – even worse -trying to answer an interviewer’s questions while also trying to take in some food.

The wors book tour for Tiff was in 1990, for Inside Memory. Nine solid weeks, with only one day free of travel or publicity work. Tiff had to go to an emergency ward in Halifax to deal with exhaustion and the flu. By the time we reached Vancouver, he was again close to collapse. At that emergency ward, the doctor – seeing me – suspected AIDS. While the blood test was being analyzed, he directed us to stand by in the waiting room. When he appeared, he looked grimly at Tiff – and suggested that it might be a good idea if I came along as well. This immediately signalled to us that what we were about to hear was dire.

It wasn’t. the results of the test were negative. Tiff could see that I was ready to explode with accusations centring on “Then why the hell did your attitude imply the reverse!” And he hurried us out of the room.

I began to wonder, though – were Tiff’s beloved words slowly killing him?

Bill has had a rich life in which he created – directly or indirectly –  some wonderful items for many of us to enjoy and learn from. There is a dedication he gave to his existence that was both light-hearted yet engrossing that feels unique and somehow missing from others as we regard their biographies.

Words To Die For  – Page 247

Will there be sun for me tomorrow?

I hope so. I’ve had the most wonderful life. Glorious people, fabulous place and more love and laughter than can be imagined. It’s hard to express how grateful I am for my life: grateful for everything, but not grateful to anything. I’ve never felt the need to imagine some all-powerful being who is responsible for creating everything I know and love. Many have been imagined. I view the various divinities that are worshipped in different ways by different groups, the various eternal paradises that are promised, as wishful thinking. I hope that all such worshipper will allow me to find my own way out of this life in much the same way I found my way into it: innocent of knowledge about how, where, when and why everything I know came into being.

I had shared the news of Bill’s passing on a few social-media fronts and there were many comments back of sadness and discussion threads about his life. But his autobiography is a testament of his life and his unique contributions to lives and loves around him. I encourage people to read William Whitehead’s Words To Live By and to consider and cherish his existence. As I cherish his book on my bookshelf.

whitehead.jpg

*****

Link to Cormorant Books webpage for Words To Live By

“One big inspiration (of the book) was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it, which involved having good friends you’d live close to and share life with as well as access to art and fewer cars and concerns” |Q&A with author Liz Harmer on her new book “The Amateurs”

 

amateurs

It is always a thrill to see a new work come available for us readers to enjoy. Liz Harmer has been in my social-media network for a while now and her novel “The Amateurs” is being published on April 24, 2018by Knopf Canada. Liz was kind enough to answer a few questions about her novel and provide some insights into her writing style.

****

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “The Amateurs?”

At the centre of The Amateurs is “port”, a product released by a tech company called PINA, which proves to be nearly irresistible. People buy it, use it, and soon the world depopulates. The novel focuses on two groups living after this kind of rapturing apocalypse—a few dozen people living in Hamilton-like former steeltown, and nearly a thousand holing up on the PINA campus in California—who are grieving everything and everyone they’ve lost, afraid of and desperately curious about the ports, and trying to figure out what’s next. The novel moves from the steeltown group to California and back.

 

2) How long did it take you to write the book? Was there anyone or anything that inspired you to write it?

 

One big inspiration was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it, which involved having good friends you’d live close to and share life with as well as access to art and fewer cars and concerns. I had a picture of an economy somehow happily collapsed by technology. This mutated, of course, and I ended up thinking a lot about hinge moments in life in which I might have, for example, completely screwed up my marriage—just the sort of fantasies one has around time travel and do-overs. I thought the idea that portals promising a good life might create one inadvertently was funny. My husband Adam was finishing his PhD in Philosophy around the writing of the novel, and we share an interest in the paradoxes of time travel (among other paradoxes), which was another spur.

 

From the first attempted pages, the book took around fifteen months to write, but I had been writing character sketches of Marie and Jason for much longer than that. Then the editing and revising took another year or two. It’s hard to find the boundaries around that kind of timeline.

 

3) “The Amateurs” has been listed as part of Knopf New Face of Fiction program. How did the novel get chosen for that program?

 

I don’t know how that happened—but I am so thrilled to be on that list and to be publishing with Knopf.

 

4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

 

I love Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen, and I’m also very enthusiastic about Zadie Smith, Rachel Cusk, Heather O’Neill, and Elena Ferrante. Ottessa Mosfegh’s stories and her novel Eileen were some recent favorites. I’m currently reading Ruth Franklin’s biography of Shirley Jackson—it’s excellent—and I’m just starting Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

 

5) Your website states you also write essays and short pieces of fiction. Do you find any differences between the two forms of writing? Is there one form you prefer over the other?

 

Yes, and I’ve also been recently trying to write poetry. Each form provides something different, though I have a lot of trouble knowing for myself what that difference is. My nonfiction tends to be memoir, and I like all my work to be exploratory and open-ended as I’m very uncomfortable with definitive statements, at least in my writing. I tend to prefer whatever I’ve been working on—right now, I prefer fiction and feel most comfortable within it—I like to create a voice and get to know a character.

 

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

 

Yes—many new things, actually. Partly because I am very busy with young kids and too many responsibilities, and partly because my personality likes novelty, I’m always working on lots of projects at once. I’m several drafts into one new novel (a realist novel about commitment to marriage and to religious belief) and part way into a first draft of another; I’m working on a bunch of short stories; and I’ve been working on and researching a long nonfiction project to do with mental illness in my family.

 

7) You seem to be active on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those sites? Are you planning to use those applications to connect with fans of your writing?

 

Definitely. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I’m trying to figure out how best to use them. I used to really love blogging, which I think led me to write more nonfiction, and I want to figure out how to enjoy social media that much.

 

8) Are you done any public readings of you work? If yes, is it something you enjoy to do? Are you planning a book tour with the release of “The Amateurs?”

 

I have done a few readings over the past few years, of stories and essays and parts of The Amateurs. I think it’s a skill I’m getting better at, especially with some practice I’ve had reading poetry aloud. I enjoy it and tend to like events—I like going to readings also. My tour will take me to Southern Ontario in May, to start with, with more events to follow.

 

9) Your biographies have you listed as having moved from Hamilton, Ontario to California. How do you like living there now? Do you get back to Canada much?

 

I do get back to Canada fairly frequently, both with and without my family. We moved because of my husband’s academic job, which we were extremely lucky to get, but I suffer from a lot of homesickness. I miss the changing seasons—even the grey skies of the endless Southern Ontario winters—and it was hard to leave friends and family behind, especially when our kids were so young. But we have made wonderful friends here, and pomegranate trees and blue skies can be nice. I was writing The Amateurs during the move—had finished the first part during my last summer in Hamilton and started the second part before we even had an internet connection here—and my mentor with the U of T, Charles Foran, joked with me that I was going through a kind of portal while I wrote my portal novel.

*****

Link to Liz Harmer’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for “The Amateurs”

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

 

Getting to Know Ava Lee before her Television Debut | Review of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong/The Water Rat of Wanchai (2014) Spiderline

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Readers of crime novels and thrillers are a special breed. They not only have the pleasure of reading their genre through books but also viewing the actions of their characters in television programs. And now that one of the most noted characters is in production to come to the small screen, I figured it was time to introduce myself to Ava Lee via Ian Hamilton’s The Dragon Head of Hong Kong and The Water Rat of Wanchai.

Page 6

“Mr. Lo, even if I can locate the money, how do you expect we’ll get our hands on it?”

His chin slumped onto his chest and he stared at his feet. “I don’t know, but I can’t just do nothing. I can’t leave things the way they are. The pressure at home from my wife and my brother-in-law is going to be unbearable. But I know that if I tell her you’re looking into it, it will buy me some time.

“I honestly don’t know enough about how things operate in Hong Kong and China to be of much help.”

“Please.”

Ava sighed. “Look, I’ll make some phone calls tonight to some people who do know how things work there. I can’t promise you any more than that.”

“So you aren’t saying no?”

“Or yes.”

“That’s good enough.”

How desperate is this man? She thought. “Okay, so we’ll leave it at that. I’ll contact you sometime tomorrow and let you know what I’ve decided to do.”

There is something fresh in the concept of the lead character of Ava Lee. Here we have a detective that doesn’t deal in bodies but chases down unpaid debts by deadbeat liars in exotic locations. ‘Follow the money,’ is the adage of many crime and police plots but here we have an accountant actually chasing money in a tough and rough manner. It is a concept we can all relate to while being whisked away to far-flung corners of the globe.

Pages 212-213

It was a quick ride to the city centre. Their route took them over the Tsing Ma Bridge, six lanes of traffic on the upper deck, rail lines beneath. The bridge always took Ava’s breath away. It was close to a kilometre and half long and soared two hundred metres above the water. The Ma Wan Channel, part of the South China Sea, glittered below in the early morning sun as sampans and fishing boats skirted the armanda of huge ocean freighters waiting to be escorted in Hong Kong’s massive container port.

They slowed when they reached the city proper, caught in the last of the morning rush hour. Hong Kong isn’t a city filled with private cars. Finding a place to park isn’t easy or cheap in a place where office and retail space in rented by the square inch, but there are red taxis everywhere, scurrying like beetles. Sonny drove carefully – too carefully for Ava, but he was a cautious man, maybe even deliberately cautious. It was as if he were restraining his true nature. She had seen this trai in him when he attended mettings with Uncle. He didn’t do that often, but when he did, he remained standing off to one side, his eyes flickering back and forth as he followed the flow of conversation. Ava realized that his body language changed along with the tone of the meeting. If Uncle was having his way, Sonny was placid. Any opposition to Uncle position caused him to tense, his eyes growing dark.

I couldn’t find any new information about the release date of the TV series but I was excited to read that Ian Hamilton has published a new book in the series – THE IMAM OF TAWI-TAWI  – this past week.  No doubt, as I beging to work my way throught the series of the earlier books, I will enjoying the combination of action, footwork and suspense that Ava Lee finds herself in.

Pages 370-371

“I think he’s about to leave,” she said.

Patrick called a number from his cellphone. “Wake up, boys,” he said.

“See the small guy in the apron?” he said to Ava. “He’s one of our leading drug dealers; does most of the imports. He’s also a friend of a friend. Until now it didn’t occur to me that he might be involved with Seto and Ng. After all this is over I’ll have to ask.”

The trio exited the restaurant and climbed back into the Land Rover. Ava held her breath.

They followed the car as it lumbered two blocks and parked at Eckie’s. Seto and the woman climbed down. Ava saw him say something to Ng, who was still in the Land Rover. The black Nissan was four spots farther along.

Patrick used his cellphone again. “Give them about ten minutes inside and then get Ng,” he said. He reached over and opened the glove compartment. Ava saw a semi-automatic in an shoulder holster and sevral pairs of handcuffs. “We need two sets, I imagine,” he said as he put on the holster.

“I want to tape their eyes and his mouth before we get them in this truck,” she said.

“Just his?”

“Someone has to tell us the entry codes for the gate, and I’m sure the house is protected as well.”

Certainly Ava Lee will transfer well into the small screen but until she does, many of us will continue to read her adventures written by Ian Hamilton. And combo set of The Dragon Head of Hong Kong/The Water Rat of Wanchai are great places to start.

*****

Link to Ian Hamilton’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for combo The Water Rat of Wanchai/The Dragon Head of Hong Kong edition

Link to Strada Films website

In Defense of Actually Reading Books in 2017 |Mention of Angie Abdou’s “In Case I Go” Arsenal Pulp Press

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This will be my final post for 2017. And there are a few things I want to accomplish with it.  Most importantly I want to reflect on one of my favourite books of 2017- In Case I Go by Angie Abdou. I also know that it has been a bit of time since I posted here and my followers have been wondering why, so here is a quick note. (I have been busy with earning money to purchase more reading material – so expect more posts in 2018.)

Now to In Case I Go. I was heartbroken to read and hear some of the slagging that this book has been receiving. Abdou documented not only for me but for many people I know a reality that is true in this book. The plot deals with a young white boy realizing that his descendants were far from perfect in their actions in dealing with minorities and that the present-day actions of his parents are far from ideal. Now, there has been a lot of empty talk of some of the details that Abdou used to move this plot forward. I admit that I don’t know some of the facts behind some of these discussions but they seem trivial and petty. Abdou has captured for me some of the angst that I remember as a child coming aware in a far from perfect world and that is for me the mark of a great piece of literature. And for many of my fellow readers who work long hours in dirty jobs, have far from perfect credit ratings and who’s feet stink because they been on them all day, this was a work that reflected some of the pain of their reality as well. And it was a pleasure to hear Angie read from this book a few months ago when the staff at a local library made an extra effort to bring her in a Friday night and let us book-lovers hear her words and thoughts.

There were many great works this past year that were worthy of unwinding and pondering over but this book was the one that caught my eye the most. Thanks to all the writers whom captured my attention this past year with their dedicated craft.

However In Case I Go by Angie Abdou is the one item on my bookshelf now that holds a special place for me. I wept when reading it because I found a reality that documents my life. Trust me this is the one book that should be read. (And I spend my days wading through tripe that should be trash but is revered. ) And I know that I am not alone in calling this a great piece of literature.

go

*****

Link to Angie Abdou’s website

 

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.

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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