Tag Archives: Anthony De Sa

Our Relationships With Others| Review of “The Journey Prize Stories” 2015 Edition McClelland & Stewart

Journey

As we go through our lives, we need to interact with other people. But in many cases those interactions are not easy activities. We are dealing with people  with different ideals or personalities that are different from our own that we often become uncomfortable or even confused in our thoughts and actions. I realized this as I read the 2015 collection of The Journey Prize Stories how difficult relations are in the human condition and how literature helps to explore those relationships.

Page XI – Introduction by Anthony De Sa, Tanis Rideout, and Carrie Snyder. Selection committee for the 2015 Journey Prize Stories

Perhaps the greatest surprise can be found in how these stories affected us. Some of the stories grabbed us from the very beginning, while others rippled out like water disturbed by a pebble. Regardless of how they took hold, they all engaged us with their richness – the layered and nuanced telling of more we appreciated how beautiful or smart or gritty these pieces were.

This couldn’t have been an easy task for these three to pick out 12 stories that were gripping in their writing and style. Each of these three are strong writers in there own right and certainly they must have been aware of more than 12 stories for them to choose from. Yet these selections are strong ones that move and enlighten readers and writers alike.

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Page 3-4 Fingernecklace by Lori McNulty

Donny’s greasy jeans are tucked into oil-stained work boots in the living room of the care home. He checks his watch, pacing. Crew’s on site. Fuck. Shit. Piss. He’s got the engineer’s change orders. Cost overruns. Goddamn job is killing him. Looking up he sees Gus lumbering down the stairs still wrapped in his white terry cloth robe. Big as a hollowed oak, premature belly spread. Donny shakes a full prescription bottle at him.

“Don’t skip out on me, Gus. You know what happens.”

Donny watches his younger brother’s eyes dart around the room, taking inventory. He sees Gus freeze at the sight of his work boots.

Gus bunches the terry cloth belt in his palms, squeezes, lets the fuzzy ball drop to the floor. He yanks it back up like a fishing line, absently lets it drop. Donny pats the couch cushion, coaxing his brother over.

“Look, Gus, we can’t do our usual pizza run this aft. Got a date with a wrecking ball.”

Gus bunches the belt in his lap, blinks wet, wandering tears. Donny wraps his arms around his big old stump of a baby brother, tries to hold the roots down keep the disease from spreading. Root rot. Runs in the family.

Gus sobs into his brother’s neck. “I want to come home.”

Donny holds him close, tries to stop twenty years of trembling. Five years, six major episodes, a thousand pills and private dreams between them.

We have all seen all sorts of human-interest news stories about families who deal with members who have metal illness. But McNulty short story gives a true essence of what the situation is like. Using bold and frank language she shows the relationship between the two brothers and describes the hard emotions they each must deal with.

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Page 14 Mercy Beatrice Wrestles the Noose by K’ari Fisher

Ghost-Mom has been hanging around me all evening, smoking her cigarette. When she was alive she always had a pack of her fer shit sake sticks nearby in case of an emergency. Now that she’s dead, a machine-rolled Du Maurier hangs endlessly from her lips. She sucks on it pathologically. In the last few months, I’ve yet to see her need to light a new one.

“Why are you here, Mercy Beatrice?” she says. Her see-through body bristles up like a used scrub brush. ” I told you to stay away from this place.”

Here is Bodie, British Columbia. Bodie used to be a self-sufficient whistle-stop along the Canadian Pacific Railway during the lure of Gold Mountain. When the rush was over, they flooded 920 hectares of forest to power the twin turbines running the aluminum smelter on the other side of the cordillera. Now all that remains is my father, his junkyard that operates off scrap brought in on the train, and Pauley.

This is a brilliant short-story written in the first-person. A young woman tracks down her estranged father and learns the skills involved in the pro-wrestling circuit. We follow the protagonist through not only the lessons of wrestling but a wealth of emotions involving her strange family.

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Page 29 – Renaude by Charlotte Bondy

Mischa and I met on the second day of grade nine when our French teacher mistook him for a girl because of his long dark hair and cheekbones like Kate Moss. Everyone giggled and Mischa flushed red down to his shirt collar. After class I found him in the the hall and told him I was jealous of his curls. I also told him this story about when I was twelve and had a terrible mushroom cut. My mom took me to the Gap to buy a pair of velvet pants. The salesperson kept trying to steer us to the men’s section, away from all the leggings, until my frazzled mother eventually pointed at me and yelled, “She’s a girl!” After I told him this, Mischa gave me his special look, the one where his eyes squeeze shut like a smiling Buddha. Then he asked if I wanted to eat lunch with him and that was that.

Adolescences is always a difficult time for many people. Trying to fit a certain identity while dealing with set norms that society is trying force us into is not an idyllic experience. Charlotte Bondy explores that setting for three teenagers trying to come to age in a modern city.

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Page 41-42 Cocoa Divine and the Lighthouse Police by Georgia Wilder

Dad complains that Diefenbaker scrapped the Arrow and that Trudeau, French and effete, joined Ed Sullivan’s conspiracy. “Beatle-mania, Trudeau-mania, Mob psychology,” he says. “All those kids screaming like rabid animals. No discipline. Is that roasted chicken? Damn that rock and roll and those crazy hippies. What we need is another war. Pass the green beans. Please! What do you think about this women’s lib, malarkey, Brownwyn?” It’s not a question. It is a test for The Amazing Kreskin. He wants me to read the secret answer his head, not tell him what I really think.

I dress like a boy because girls can’t do shit if they dress like girls, and what I really think is that Dad can take a great word like liberation and make it sound like a bad taste in your mouth, like something loud and fat and embarrassing: lip or lipid or libido. I haven’t heard the term hippie since grade five, and Trudeau is old, and malarkey comes from the kind of braid that’s been mummified in a Canopic jar. There’s a new indie punk glam scene that comes in from campus stations late at night on my clock radio, and those new rocker chicks and club queens and androgyny philosophers are taking over from white-boy cock-rockers like The Who and The Stones and Rush and Styx; and I’m trying to figure out why all the cool black rock-and-rollers are selling their souls to disco, and why the hell Grace Jones is singing synthesized Broadway tunes when she could be kicking ass with real skin drums. My dad says there’s a generation gap. It’s the fucking Grand Canyon. All he sees is this freckled kid who doesn’t say what’s in her head and he makes her feel dumb and small.

Another great story dealing with identity and family relationships. Many of us look back at our upbringings and try to deal with reflections of people who tried to push their views on us. Wilder not only uses frank language but terms from the period which makes this story realistic.

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Page 61-62 The Perfect Man for my Husband by Andrew MacDonald

I put my piece of bread back on the plate and asked my husband, “What do you mean, no hope?”

“Exactly what it sounds like.” He drank some carbonated water, sucking it through his teeth. By the face he made, I could tell he had trouble getting it down his throat, as if it hadn’t gone all the way to his stomach and had chosen his Adam’s apple as its home instead.

This was our Cancer Dinner – what we’d call it over the next few months, when the endlessly multiplying cells really started ransacking his body. I would come to grow fond of this moment, the way Eve must have grown fond of the second before she bit into the apple and damned us all. It’s rare in life you can point definitively to The Moment Everything Changed. We could do that.

Palming a piece of bread into a tiny ball, I threw it across the table at his chest. I pretended his chest was the universe, that the ball of bread was a missile with such potential for catastrophe that it would end all moments. The bread ball bounced into his glass of water. We both looked at it sadly as the water molecules slowly pulled it apart, the bread falling open like a strange underwater flower you needed grief to discover.

A great story in which a wife not only has to deal with her husband’s terminal illness but also the fact that he admits that he is attracted to other men. McDonald has capture the dynamic between a husband and wife brilliantly which gives great insight to the state of couples in our modern era.

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Page 81 -82 – Moonman by Sarah Meehan Sirk

“My aunt is going to stay over the nights that both Chris and I are working,” she said into the receiver. “I don’t know, Fran. It’s going to be tough for a while, but I think it’s only temporary. I mean, my hours and his  . . . situation.”

And then she laughed in that conspiratorial way mothers share while talking with one another about their husbands and children. A laugh, it seemed to me that rarely involved joy.

I couldn’t tell her that she’d been wrong. It didn’t matter that she was home when we went to bed and when she got up for school in the morning – her nighttime absence echoed through the halls. We always knew when she was gone. i lost the feeling that children are supposed to have when they drift off to sleep: that knowledge that their parents, their mother, is in the house somewhere, her protective warmth flowing from room to room in the dark. Without it, I lay awake for hours listening to every creak, every rustle, and every snore that rose up from Great Aunt Audrey, who slipped into an impenetrable slumber on a chair in front of the television minutes after the front door was pulled shut and the key turned in the lock.

Another great story looking at the relationship between parents and child. A bit of a conspiratorial feel to this story which gleefully draws the reader into the piece.

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Page 96-97 Last Animal Standing on Gentleman’s Farm by Emily Bossé

After vomiting in the sink where we clean the blenders, I decide I need to get the hell out of this city. If I ever get my face tenderized again, it’s going to be over something I really believe in. Not a day’s worth of wheatgrass profits. When I get home, there it is: a big brown envelope with a note from my mom written on kitchen stationery and something from LANDE & WOLFE on legal letterhead. I open the legal letter first, and it say my uncle Phillip died and left a lot of his estate to me, something about property, something about chattel, a meeting, turnover, so on, so forth. The not from my mom is shorter, saying something along the same lines, but also God knows why Phil would leave this to me as he hasn’t seen me since I moved away, and I just don’t know the first thing about husbandry, but it’s just a hobby farm, really: a little more than a dozen chickens, eight pigs, one goat, a rooster, and a dog. Maybe it would be good for me, and if I can stand the thought of going back to Devon it’s mine. Then, at the bottom: P.S. – tell Paul I say “hi.” Yours, Mom.” I’ve never heard of another mom who signs her letters “yours.” Good old Eva.

I’m on the next bus out with as much as I can stuff into the duffel bag I stole from my deadbeat roommate. For a second I think I see Joanna sitting about six rows in front of me, slack jawed and stringy haired, her roots about six inches of grey fading into an orangey urine colour. She’s looking straight ahead just like she rides the bus over and over back home, but I can’t imagine Paul letting her out like that, and he’s been in charge of her since Mrs. Estey died. We stop at some trucker place called Chatter’s and I call Paul collect. It’s around 3 a.m. back home, but he picks up the phone on the second ring. I tell him my uncle’s dead and I guess I’ve come into some land or something, and I’m coming home toot sweet. Paul inhales and exhales noisily into the phone.

“Paul. Seriously. this is some Jane Eyre shit.”

We all have had those mixed feelings of nostalgia and guilt when we try to return back to the regions of our upbringing.  Yet there are little disasters that occur in those visits that tell us that “going home again” just isn’t a great idea.  Bossé explores that notion in this brilliant and engaging story.

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Page 117-188 – Lovely Company by Ron Schafrick

I was at work, finishing up for the day, when I got a call from my father. It scared me a little, seeing his name on the screen like that in the middle of the afternoon. Usually I was the one who made the calls, nearly every evening since my mother passed away three years ago. He only ever phoned when he was upset about something, often lat at night when his eighty-year-old mind started playing tricks on him, getting him wound up into thinking that so-and-so was trying to take away the hose, or that someone else was siphoning money out of his bank account. And so it naturally fell to me to reassure him, often unconvincingly, that everything was all right, that no one was stealing from him, and that certainly no was trying to take away the old farmhouse he had built more than forty years ago, the house I’d grown up in and where he continued to live.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “Something’s got to be wrong for me to call?”

I leaned back in my chair.

“You know what?” he said. “I think I got a girlfriend now.”

I personally could relate to this piece on so many different levels. I have had to deal with elderly parents in this situation so many times that it felt like Schafrick was writing an element out of my life.

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Page 147 – Maggie’s Farm by Charlie Fiset

When Diane leaves, the girl and the boy search their new home.

“Look here!” the boy calls. “What the hell is this thing?”

The girl finds him in the bedroom, touching a bundle of dead leaves that are wrapped in string and hanging from the ceiling.

“It looks like voodoo,” the boy says.

“Voodoo? They’re just dried herbs. That’s how my mom hangs them.”

The girl reaches up to touch a sprig of mint but withdraws her hand when she sees that the slivered, pale green leaves are wrapped in cobwebs and blanketed in dust.

“Come look at the kitchen,” she says, taking the boy’s hand. “Look at all the food Margaret bought us . . . “

We have all taken those extend vacations where we need to interact with different people of different cultures and values. In such journeys do we not only learn about others but ourselves and the people we think we know and care about. This story is brilliant, especially in the fact the protagonists are never named. (Always referred to as “Boy” and “Girl”) This allows the reader to easily imagine themselves in the clothes of the travelers as they go through each experience.

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Page 182 – Achilles’ Death by Madeleine Maillet

I twisted up a tress of wet hair and imagined I could wring the lice out. I let it go and it clung to my neck, like a disgusting thing. If I were a Medusa I wouldn’t have lice. But I knew I wasn’t brave enough to be a Medusa. And I wanted to be pretty. I wondered what I would look like when I was a woman.

Mom asked Nadine to put the radio on and it was smooth and she moaned along. Alan Almond played Sade, Marvin Gaye, that kind of thing. My favourite part was the requests. Someone loves Linda, in Flint, and so the listening audience knows that Linda, of Flint, is loved.

The phone rang. This time my mom just left the comb hanging in my hair while she talked to Papa. After, she asked us about our funeral clothes and we pretended not to feel like funeral clothes are weird and boring to talk about. When they played “My Girl” we all sang along. Mom had the most gusto and Dini had the best voice and all our voices together made a mood.

We didn’t talk for a while. I asked Mom how much hair she’d done and she drew a line on my scalp with the comb, way beneath the crown. My sister drew the same two-and-a-half storey house with a fence that she always drew. The sun and the seagull were there, in each corner of the sky. Looking at her drawing, she asked, “What’s for dinner?”

Again, childhood is the setting for this brilliant story. We all suffered from all sorts of traumas and excitements that shape our psyche in our adult lives. Maillet’s piece here is a great exploration of some events and the interactions of a child.

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Page 193-194 – Red Egg and Ginger by Anna Ling Kaye

On the day of Baby’s full-month party, Mei wakes with a sore chest. She takes off her nightshirt in the bathroom and checks her profile in the mirror. It is amazing to think of herself as pregnant. There is nothing different about her soft skin, her smooth stomach. Except her breasts feel different. they are stiff and sensitive in the hand. Mei imagines them swelling with milk, like water balloons, nature’s prank on unsuspecting mothers. Mei decides not to consult the literature from Family Planning hidden under her mattress. She walks into the living room to look for her cigarettes.

Her roommate, Ching, is sitting on the couch in a long T-shirt and eating a bowl of ramen noodles. She had Styrofoam bowl balanced on her bare knees, lifting it occasionally for a slurp of soup. The smell of salty broth fills the tight space, making Mei’s empty stomach turn.

“Afternoon, bed-head,” Ching says. “No work today?”

“I couldn’t open my eyes.”

“Romeo called for you. You are so lucky. I need love.” Ching flicks a log of burgundy-dyed hair out of her soup and gives a dramatic sniff. “I’m going to be alone forever. Not like you and Prince Charming.”

Mei chews the unlit cigarette in her mouth and notices she doesn’t want to smoke. In fact, the thought of smoking right then makes her gag. “You think he’s a prince?” she asks. She tries to sound bored, keep the hope out of her voice.

“Of course,” Ching says. “He’s cute, he’s got a good job, he adores you. He’s tall, too. He’s the pot of gold.”

Mei puts the cold cigarette on the table and looks at Ching.

“So your mom would let you marry a white ghost?”

Ching’s scandalized laughter is all the answer Mei needs.

Growing up in a difficult culture can produce difficult hardships. But also many of the pressures are similar to our society. Anna Ling Kaye has documented an interesting situation about a girl in modern Hong Kong society. The rituals that her protagonist seem foreign to us but the pressures but on her family are quite familiar.

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Page 205-206 The Wise Baby by Deirdre Dore

Hi. Is Darryl home? she said

I said, No.

A few nights before, after I got off shift, I had come home and found Darryl lying on the couch, smoking a joint. I took off my shoes and threw my clothes into the washing machine. I am a philosophy student-slash-server. He is an artist-slash-server and was my boyfriend for four years. He painted large female nudes in oil and hope to get noticed one day.

Busy? Darryl asked.

Slammed, I said. If I wash my shirt now, do you think you can iron it for me in the morning? I really, really, need to sleep in.

Darryl said, Vivian? Listen up.

He had two things to tell me. One, that his art was the most important thing in his life. And two, more important even than his art, he might be gay. I laughed. I said, Oh great, I’m thirty-three years old, ready to start my life and I’m stuck with a boyfriend who is having a heterosexual melt down.

Being gay is one thing. Not being gay is another thing. But not knowing, well, that’s something else.

I told him, Do me a favour, go sort yourself out somewhere else.

The next morning he moved up the mountain to his parents’ condo in Whistler, to paint, wait on tables, snowboard, and sort himself out somewhere else.

I didn’t mention any of this to the woman on my doorstep, who introduced herself as Deb and said she had come to return a stamp she had borrowed from Darryl.

This is probably the funniest story in the whole book since it reflects an honest slice of reality. It seems something annoying always pops up when one is trying to deal with an important crisis in one’s life. In this case, after a break up, an overworked philosophy major deal with a couple of neighbours who continually intrude into her life. The concept of relationships and interactions are a strong feature in this short story.

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The 2015 collection of The Journey Prize Stories was a great look at some of the relationships and interactions that make up the human condition. It also provide and great introduction to some new writers that will hopefully continue their craft and allow us to interact with their writings in the future.

Link to The Writers’ Trust of Canada’s website for The Journey Prize

Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s page for 2015 collection of The Journey Prize Stories

Anthony De Sa has written two brilliant novels. Barnacle Love (Link to my review) and Kicking the Sky (Link to my review) have great descriptions to small details. And that is the beauty of De Sa himself. After reviewing those books, friends make comments like “My wife played Scrabble with him at a charity event” or “I took a tour of a Toronto neighbourhood with him” and his easy, simple nature is often noted.  Last week at pub night, I forego my usual craft-beer order and went with a bottle of Molson Export. My bartender noted my change and I mention that I wanted to contemplate the logo of the sailing ship, like a immigrant-character did in one of De Sa’s book. The bartender looked at me and said he had often heard that immigrants and visitors remarked about their journeys to Canada while looking at that logo.  De Sa recently took time out while on a trip to Tanzania to answer a few questions for me.

*****

1) It has been a little while since Kicking the Sky has been released. How has the reaction been to it so far?

A: The reaction has been very positive. Critically, the novel received positive reviews, but it’s the response by readers that has been so rewarding to me as a writer.

2) Toronto has been an important setting for your books and stories. How do you like living there right now? Does it’s cultural scene provide you much inspiration for your writing?

A: Toronto is my home. My travels in the U.S.A to promote my American release of Kicking the Sky was a terrific experience, but it’s always good to come home. The cultural scene in the city is vibrant, but it is the neighbourhoods and the people in those neighbourhoods, that inspire me. Many have come from very far to make Toronto and Canada their home. This was certainly a big part of writing my first 2 books.

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

A: Faulkner, Richler. I’m a big fan of Michael Crummey. It’s quite the variety. I was in the Dar Es Salaam airport a couple of days ago and picked up a copy of The White Masai by Corinne Hofmann. This book (I had never heard of it before) is a white European woman’s account of falling in love with a Masai in Kenya. She decides to marry him and this is her story. It is romantic, but it’s also a real piece of social anthropology.

4) Has your writing changed since you were first published? If yes, how so?

A: I don’t think it’s changed. My style has remained the same. But my editor might disagree.

5) You seem to be active on several of the social-media platforms right now (Twitter, Facebook) Does being there help your writing at all or is it more of a means to keep in touch with fans of your writing?

A: Social media has become an important part of marketing a book. That being said, for me, the most rewarding part of it is the play between industry people, readers, other writers and myself. It doesn’t help the writing. In fact, it could easily detract from the writing process because the sheer amount of time spent on websites, Facebook, Twitter, and blog contributions, takes me away from research and writing of my new book.

6) Do you do a lot of travelling? (I know you mentioned on FB that you are about to embark on a trip to Tanzania.) If yes, does travelling help your writing at all?

A: I’m currently answering these questions in my hotel room in Zanzibar. There are few perks in becoming a writer. I know it doesn’t seem that way to most people who are striving to get published, but it’s true. One of the best parts of being a writer is meeting with people who have read your books and travelling to places you never thought possible. It really is wonderful.

*****

Link to Anthony De Sa’s homepage

Link to Random House Canada’s Page for “Kicking the Sky”

Link to Algonquin Books (U.S) page for “Kicking the Sky”

 

Coming To Age Near the Water | Review of “Barnacle Love” by Anthony De Sa (2008) Anchor Canada

Barnacle

After reading Anthony De Sa’s “Kicking The Sky” (Link to the Review) I decided to read his first novel “Barnacle Love.” This book shows a bit more of the family history of the Rebelo clan as they try to make their way through life in Canada in the 20th Century. De Sa has documented many of the angst that many of us feel who grew up in an ethnic setting in North America.

Page 4 – Of God and Cod

The Portuguese call it saudade: a longing for something so indefinite as to be indefinable. Love affairs, miseries of life, the way things were, people already dead, those who left and the ocean that tossed them on the shores of a different land – all things born of the soul that can only be felt. Manuel Antonio Rebelo was a product of this passion. He grew up with the tales of his father, a man who held two things most sacred. God and cod – bacalhau – and not always in that order. His father’s words formed vivid pictures of grizzled brave fishermen and whale hunters who left their families for months to fish the great waters off Terra Nova, the new land. Visions of mothers shrouded in black, of confused wives – the pregnant ones feeling alone, the others glad for the respite from pregnancy – spun in his mind. And then there were the scoured children, waving in their Sunday finery. The small boys bound in worn but neatly pressed blazers and creased shorts. The little girls scattered like popcorn in their outgrown Communion dresses as they watched their fathers’ ascents onto magnificent ships. In his dreams Manuel saw the men with their torn and calloused hands, faces worn, dark and toughened by the salted mist. As a child he would sit by the cliffs for hours, dangling his bare feet over the side of the hundred-foot drop to the shore, kicking the rock with his pink heels, placing his hands over his eyes to shield the sunlight, already yearning for the fading figures of the White Fleet. “One day I’ll disappear,” he’d say aloud.

De Sa has a great sense in the use of words but it is also refreshing to read his take on the coming-of-age novel. The ethnic households of which many of us grew up in were not always floral costumes and flowing foreign languages. There were strife and conflicts in those households as the 20th Century drew to the close as old-world ideals clashed with life in North America.

Page 72-73 – Made of Me

Manuel passed by his brother Jose, who sat at the kitchen dinette drinking a beer. Manuel moved to sink and smiled as he helped Antonio to sit atop the counter. Manuel knew his son – the boy he named after the father he himself barely knew – would need his guidance to grow into a proper man, the kind of man that would thrive in this land he had made his home. Manuel raised a bottle of Molson’s Export Ale to his lips. The blue ship with all those sails on the label always reminded him of the place his family came from, of the Portuguese with their proud tradition of shipbuilding and exploration. “Jose, what exactly-” Manuel stopped, not because he didn’t know what to ask but because he was afraid the question would lead him to a place he was quite content to leave alone. “What happened to Candida? You were there, you saw it.” “Estupida. She was so stupid, that girl, sometimes,” Jose said. Jose recounted the story, how Candida had found a red lipstick under a church pew, how she always had ideas of being a movie star, the kind that filled the smoky screens, always doing her hair in crimped waves when their mother just wanted her to get the house in order, to wash the dishes or sweep. “It happened shortly after you left; soon after we thought you were  . . . dead, at sea. Mae was distraught and . . .” Manuel looked over at his six-year-old son to see if the words his brother had spoken had entered the boy’s head. He thought for an instant that it might be best to ask his son to leave, but chose not to. It was important to know things; knowledge was a kind of protection. Parents had an obligation to teach, he thought. Antonio just sat on the counter, prodding the dead fish in the sink with a straw.

De Sa also has documented something typically Canadian in these stories here. Not something full with blustering patriotism but something honest and gritty at times. These are stories about growing up that tell what growing up was truly like.

Page 165 – Senhor Canada

11:14 A.M. A canvassing politician arrived just before lunch. “Hello, Mr . . .” – he looked at his clipboard – ‘”Rebelo? You’re a fine Canadian to honour your country this way.” “Yes, I Canadian.” “Well, the arrogance of this government,” He shook his head for effect. “This prime minister is destroying – ” “Who?” “Mr. Trudeau is destroying the very fabric of -” “Out!” my father hollered. He shouted it again, louder so that he could be heard over the anthem. “Out! Get-out-a-here!” My father strained his neck and gestured a kick, the same way he was taught to kick a football – with the inside of his foot, toes pointing outward. “I don’t understand – ” the politician squirmed. “I come from Portugal twenty-three-ago-years.” His thick accent was made thicker by his drunken slur. “I come to Canada with no cash-money-my feet is my shoes! My hands, they hard!” He pounded his chest; I heard the muffled hollowness. “Trudeau is the man. He promise to make things easy for bring my family over here. He keep his promise. The ever-smiling politician slowly made his way out, closing the gate behind him.

Anthony De Sa has written a brilliant coming-of-age novel with Barnacle Love. He documents well the concept of growing up in an ethnic household in the 1970s and is definitely a writer worth following.

Link to Anthony De Sa’s Website

Link to Random House’s page for “Barnacle Love”

Coming of Age in the 1970s | Review of “Kicking the Sky” by Anthony De Sa (2013) Doubleday Canada

The complexities of a good coming-of-age novel is what makes literature so enjoyable to read. When a writer combines what their protagonist is:  feeling, seeing, hearing and trying to understand into a well-crafted collection of words, then an element of the human condition is described to the world and the world learns a bit more about itself. And that is exactly what Anthony De Sa has done in his novel Kicking the Sky.

Page 35

I walked my bike home quickly. My throat had tightened and the tightness drilled painfully right down into my chest. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. My fingers found the front door handle. Making my way down the stairs into the basement, I breathed in the familiar smell of old paper and worms. The floor was painted concrete – battleship grey – and some of the walls were covered halfway up with wood panelling. At the far end of the open space was a bathroom with a large shower, which my father used when he got home from a dirty day of digging, and where Terri and I showered after we came home from the beach and needed to rinse off the sand. It was next to the laundry area and across from the stove – every self-respecting Portuguese family had a second kitchen in the basement they used daily. The kitchen upstairs was just for show and it was rarely used. There was an old back seat of a Chevy my father had brought home one day with a console television, which stood next to the doorway to our adega, where fat-bellied oak barrels rested on large wooden blocks. An old hospital sheet, St. Michael’s Hospital branded on its side, hide the wine. I was relieved to see that everything looked the same.

De Sa has written a brilliant novel documenting growing up in Toronto in the 1970s. The story deals with 12-year-old Antonio Rebelo. While his parents work, Antonio and his best friend Manny and Ricky explore the area of laneways, garages, empty lots and rooftops that make up their section of Toronto. But their world shatters when another young boy of their neighbourhood is brutally raped and murdered. Who to trust and who not to trust comes into question.

Page 51

My mother wouldn’t let me go out with my friends. she said my friends weren’t allowed out either. I knew Ricky’s dad didn’t really have rules for him, so he didn’t count, but my mother was wrong. Manny’s parents hadn’t cranked up the rules in their house. Manny and Ricky had been hanging around without me. But I saw the worry on her face and stopped pushing. She had to go back to work, so she left long lists of chores for us to do, things to keep us at home and out of trouble – polishing the brass doorknobs, dusting the gumwood baseboards on the main floor, and vacuuming the living-room broadloom so that the stripes the vacuum cleaner left wouldn’t get messed up. I noticed that one of the jobs on my sister’s list was to take over to Senhora Gloria some mail that had been accidently delivered to our mailbox.

“I’ll drop off the letter if you Windex the windows,” I said.

“Here’s what you can do,” Terri said. “Drop off the letter and lug the hampers down to the basement.”

“What’ll you do off my list?”

“Nothing.” She looked smug, like she knew perfectly well the reason I had offered the trade.

De Sa also documents the conflicted emotions of growing up within an ethnic community while living in a urban North American society. The issues he brings up are common among many young people in our modern age.

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Sunday morning, I woke to the sound of stones being thrown at my bedroom window.

I pressed my face to the mesh screen and yelled through clenched teeth, “Are you nuts? What time is it?”

“That thing freaks me out,” Manny said, glaring at Jesus on our lawn.

My father had spruced Jesus up by applying Spackle to its chipped nose and painting its flaking face. the sacred heart, the size of an India-rubber ball, burst through Jesus’s robes, shiny from a fresh coat of glossy red nail polish. My father had also cut some Plexiglas in the outline of the tub, caulked and screwed it in place, trapping Jesus in a sweating coffin.

“Manny, it’s seven in the morning on a Sunday.”

“I like to work early,” he said. “Listen, if you don’t want to come, let me know. Believe me, I like working alone.” Before he even finished the sentence I had started to get dressed. I didn’t need him to get any louder and wake my parents. I slipped on my shoes when I got to the front gate, the followed Manny to mouth of the laneway opposite ours. This was not our territory. It was Amilcar’s. “Follow my nose. It always knows,” Manny sang in Toucan Sam’s dorky voice.

“I don’t like this.”

“Then stay home!” Manny shot back.

“I’m coming.

Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa is a brilliant coming-of-age novel. Anybody who has this on their ‘to-read’ list should make a serious effort to go out and read it. It is a great piece of literature that enlightens any reader’s mind.

Link to Anthony De Sa’s website

Link to Random House of Canada’s page for “Kicking the Sky.”