Tag Archives: Biblioasis

A Gritty Book and a Great Piece of Literature | Review of “Debris” by Kevin Hardcastle (2015) Biblioasis

Kevin Hardcastle will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street festival

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There is a beauty in the way a writer can capture a series of lives that are bitter and downtrodden. To use language that is direct and frank takes not only a certain skill but also requires a writer to a have an awareness to a segment of society that isn’t pretty or polite for most of the time. Kevin Hardcastle has certainly captured a ‘gritty’ reality of a series of people with his collection of short stories called simply Debris. And it is certainly a unique read.

Pages 28-29 The Rope

She got undressed with the door open and it didn’t seem to bother her. When she had her regular clothes on she came back through the house sat at the kitchen table. She smoked there at the little table and Matthew sat across from her in his dress pants and undershirt.

“Okay, ma?” he said.

Maryanna nodded and smiled funny.

“How d’you feel now?”

“Not very good. Not very good at all.”

Matthew studied her long he felt like getting up and walking the room but he didn’t.

“You been havin’ bad thoughts?”

“Sometimes.”

“Like what kind?”

“Its the stress of it all.”

She stubbed out and sand back with her hands in her lap.

“You don’t got a plan, do you?” Matthew said.

“I’ve got a rope.”

“Where?”

“In the bedroom drawer.”

Matthew stayed still but his heart beat way up in his ears. He took heavy breaths and it was hard for him to keep them in check for he’d a bone-broken nose that let air in poorly by the one nostril.

Maryanna reached over and took his hand in the both of hers. She seemed to have woke up all of sudden and she scooted her chair in close to him.

“Don’t worry about me,” she said. “I’m not gonna do that.”

This book is one of those reads that any English teacher in high school would have cringed at if it came up as a read. The language is frank, bold, violent and vulgar. But it reflects a gritty reality that exist. Hardcastle documents lives of people who are desperate and bitter yet know no other means of escaping their existence either with the intake of substances or the use of violence. This book may not be a comfortable read with a lot of the cultural elites but it is a good piece of literature.

Pages 68-69 To Have To Wait

Matthew wouldn’t stop shaking his head. When they had long since cut through the township he still had a troubled look on his face. Paul knew his brother wasn’t  fretting that hard about the ramshackle zoo. He waited soon enough Matthew spoke up.

“How has she been without him there?” he said.

Paul held the wheel in one hand and ran the other through his hair. He wiped a palmful of sweat on his shirtsleeve.

“You know, you take for granted the kind of feelings they got for each other, forget they been through shit that would kill most folks,” Paul said. “Then you see one of them without the other . . . Shit.~

“Yeah.”

Paul bit at his nails, then put his free hand back on the wheel.

“She goes to work and she fusses around the house and gets on with it, but there’s nothing behind it. All those old routines don’t mean shit anymore. They just past the time.”

“What about when he was home?”

“Before, when  he was there between the treatments, he wasn’t really himself. They put you under and hit you with that juice and it saps the life right outta you. He came home worn out. Couldn’t remember a lot of things. It was weird. So this last time he asked just to stay in there until it was done.”

Hardcastle’s descriptions – especially on those telling about locations and emotions – are simple, direct and vivid. No excess flowery prose or over-used psychoanalytical terms are used. Just direct and to the point. And the voices he gives his characters sound like they are conversations that occur today. Again, no excess phrases or the use of ‘proper’ grammar or restraint of use of obscenities.

Pages 118-119 One We Could Stand to Lose

In the early morning Arthur heard two drunks screaming at each other through the plaster walls. One woman called another woman a cocksucker. He turned his radio on and sat on his mattress. The bed linens were clean because Arthur bought them long ago and laundered them himself. He had torn up his carpeting near the turn of the century and carted it down to the alleyway dumpster piece by piece. When Arthur got up to piss at night he walked barefoot on creaky hardwood, and he often sat in his chair barefoot and read late with his feet on the cedar planking.

He’d not slept long when someone knocked his door. By the clock it was eleven a.m. Arthur got up and went over to see by the peephole. He opened up on a frantic clerk who worked the morning shift. The man was near dancing on the hallway carpet. Eyes agog and his face gone red.

“What is it, Tim?”

“It’s goddam chaos down there. They come in through the front door and then came some more and they just started goin’ at it”

“Who did?”

“Most of `em ran. But the dude from two-six-teen is face-down in the lobby with all kinds of stuff comin’ outta him.”

Kevin Hardcastle has certainly documented elements of gritty and downtrodden lifestyles well in his collection of short-stories called Debris. Simply written yet expressive, it is a read that is a great piece of literature. And no doubt a writer who`s future writings are worth looking into.

*****

Kevin Hardcastle’s next book is entitled In The Cage. Link about it here

Ljnk to Biblioasis’s website for Debris.

Link to Kevin Hardcastle’s WordPress site

 

Detailing the Angst of the Workplace | Review of “The Big Dream” by Rebecca Rosenblum (2011) Biblioasis

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The beauty of a good book is that it captures the complexities of real life that we readers endure in a simple manner. We want to see our world told through the eyes of others in order to better understand ourselves. We all endure the complex dynamics of a workplace – the interactions of co-workers, the placements of our desks, the failings of equipment, etc – yet we feel alone in our frustrations.  But, alas, we aren’t. Rebecca Rosenblum has given our workplace angst some references points in her book The Big Dream.

Page 9 – Dream Big

The cafeteria was closed for renovations and the temporary lunchroom was in the basement. In fact, the temporary lunchroom was actually a meeting room with tables, folding chairs, a microwave, four vending machines, and no windows. Many employees chose to eat at their desks, but some made use of the room.

Clint peeled the plastic off his Crackerz’n’chese.

Cheze does not look like an English word.” said Anna. She was eating unstirred fruit-at-the-bottom yoghurt.

“Still delicious.” Luddock was eating a mustard-soaked sandwich. The sheer yellow bread revealed the pink of bologna.

“Of course.” Anna reached the fruit layer and beamed into her plastic cup.

“Listen -” Clint leaned forward “Remember, last Tuesday -?”

“No!” Luddock waved his sandwich. Bread flapped away from meat. “I download all previous-week memories to the main server at midnight on Saturdays. Frees up disc space for current work.”

“Luddock, no!” Anna squawked, mouth full of pureed berries. “This is not a Tech Support situation. Do not make Tech jokes.

“Actually, only Tech is sitting at this table.”

“Lunch is our own time. We could be sitting with another department, people who don’t even work  here. We shouldn’t make this a closed conversation.”

This was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. It felt like Rosenblum has captured a slice of my life in it. (And no doubt many of these experiences in this book must have come from real-life experience.) The book centres around the company Dream Inc. a somewhat tired and broken publishing firm. Rosenblum has exacted a series of stories around people who work in this company to show how the dynamic of this firm exists. And in doing so has reflected a true reality that many of us endure.

Page 132-133 Research

When Research got off the bus at 8:45 the next morning, there was a silver-blue airplane high above her head. It had a fish painted vertically on the tail, as if it was diving. the fish was blue, too, brighter than the plane. Brightest blue of all was the sky.

Indoors was mainly grey but the blue beamed in through the enormous window, which someone somehow had washed, inside and out.

She looked into the exact definition of teal, the blogs of MuchMusic VJs that her sons liked, the calorie content of chili, the average woman’s desired amount of oral sex versus experienced. She sent these facts to various editors at Dream Fashion, Dream Teen, Dream Woman. She stared out the window, The sky was a medium blue-green, more blue than green: teal.

She walked through the vast empty space between her desk and the window – even the other researchers’ desks had been removed now. She had always threaded through them like a rope through a grommet, and now there was too much space. She had liked her colleagues; everyone boiled extra water in case someone else wanted tea. She had no way of finding them now, out there in their real lives.

Back at her desk, Research found an enthusiastic email from Dream Woman regarding her facts about oral pleasure, requesting further research. The editor did not mention the chili information (surprisingly low fat).

Googling “techniques+cunnilingus” brought many suggestions, but they repeated from website to website, or even within one – “light feathery kisses to the inner thigh” seemed much the same as “light feathery kisses up and down the leg.” She wondered how else to reteach this, eyed the framed photo of her husband in his canoe, and sent off her report.

She boiled a single cup of water for tea. She ate her yoghurt early. She looked out the window at a helicopter rising, possibly carrying the executive team from an internet start-up with a bold innovation for something. She wanted to research using reality, not the Internet. She wanted to be good at her job and interesting to her family. She wanted to be someone who found job in more than just what her husband got up to with his tongue.

Rosenblum’s language is simple and frank which makes these stories so realistic and believable. There are terms which are well-known trademarks which gives the reader the true impression that they are witnessing something out of a real workplace. And Rosenblum’s explorations of thoughts and emotions are direct and true. Nothing here is held back or questioned. These stories truly feel like a slice of real life.

Page 144 – Loneliness

Theirs was a flirtation of short emails and patchy cellphone calls. Once, a birthday card curled into a FedEx tube. Once – and nervously – lunch alone together in the employee cafeteria. Cheese cannelloni and diet Coke for both. Except for that first surreptitious caress of a thigh, several too-lingering arm-squeezes, and once when he held her coat for her and she, reaching backwards, missed entirely and stroked her palm down the flat expanse of his belly – except for these moments, there had been no physical contact at all.

Privately, they cursed themselves for teenaged fantasies that could, doubtless lead only down alleys of frustration and masturbation. Desire only increases loneliness.

There had been moments of opportunity unrealized, when they were both perhaps stunned to realize their own limits. Both had attended a two-day trade show, sitting together at a particle-board demonstration, at a Kitchen of the Future demonstration, at an Ikea demonstration. They had sat together in the bar, and talked of the pets they had as children, animals now dead. They talked of their parents who were dead now, too, and how lonely it felt to walk the earth knowing their parents were dead. They talked about, or at least each somehow managed to mention, what their hotel room numbers were.

Rebecca Rosenblum has created a brilliant piece of literature with The Big Dream. This collection of insights into a workplace is bluntly honest and true. A great read and one that will create reflections and considerations.

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for The Big Dream

Link to Rebecca Rosenblum’s website

Exposing Foolish Thoughts | Review of “Malarky” by Anakana Schofield (2012) Biblioasis

Beyond the glitz and the hype of literary awards, the lists of authors they provide many of us readers can be a great means of new books and new styles for us to discover. The Scotiabank Giller Prize of 2015 introduced many of us to Anakana Schofield and her book Martin John (Link to my review). But her earlier book Malarky shows her keen imagination and wonderful writing style. And it deserves to be mentioned here.

Episode 1 – Page 7

-There’s no way round it, I’m finding it very hard to be a widow, I told Grief, the counsellor woman, that Tuesday morning.

-Are you missing your husband a great deal?

-Not especially. I miss the routine of his demands it’s true, but am plagued day and night with thoughts I’d rather be without.

-Are you afraid to be in the house alone?

-Indeed I am.

-And these thoughts, do they come when you are having problems falling asleep?

-No, I said, they are with me from the first sup of tea I take to this very minute, since three days after my husband was taken.

-Tell me about these thoughts?

-You sure you want to know?

-I’ve heard it all, she insisted, there is nothing you can say that will surprise me.

I disbelieving, asked again. You’re sure now?

-Absolutely.

-Men, I said. Naked men. At each other all the time, all day long. I can’t get it out of my head.

-Well now, she said and fell silent.

She had to have been asking the Almighty for help, until she finally admitted she could think of no explanation and her recommendation was to scrub the kitchen floor very vigorously and see would a bit of distraction help.

Schofield does a great job here of building empathy very slowly with the readers by releasing drips of thoughts, emotions and conversations of an nameless Irish mother. (Often referred to as “Our Woman”) We jump from sections of her life where we see her  question the caliber of sincerity of her husband, dealing with her son’s sexuality and eventual signing on and deployment in the military, her own confused explorations of sexual encounters with other men and the passing of other people from her life. We gain insight to the fight of thoughts, desires and emotions against what is suppose to be a rigid and organized life of this woman.

Episode 10 Pages 110-111

Our Woman thinks back and commences. They lie against her couch and she talks into the space between them and the fireplace. Neither looks at the other as she soliloquizes and the fire handily cracks a bit to cover up the odd word.

Remember, she begins, I have had three children and so each birth was different. For starters they were all born in a different season and we’d different problems around the farm as each arrived. I delivered every one of them alone in a room except for a doctor or nurse who called in occasionally to ask how I was getting on and then took over at the end. In those days, your husband was not allowed in the room while you gave birth. When my son was born my husband did not know he’d arrived for two days because there was a lot of problems with a sick cow at the time and he was out day and night tending to it and I had gone to Castlebar and stayed there and word had been sent, but we’d no phone then and well you don’t want to know this. The worst birth was the first my eldest daughter, it was an indicator of what was to come for she’s a difficult and obstinate girl and pardon my vulgarity, but she has a very big head. I was offered a handful of blue and pink pills, which at first I refused, the seeing how awkward this creature was I requested they hand them to me again. They didn’t make a difference, but my waters, which had insisted on not breaking then dropped out of me and my distant memory of her birth is that my feet were as wet as a penguin’s.

He laughs.

Great, he’s still alive, she thinks.

– I can only say to you that it was an inhumane experience that I vowed so help me God I would never repeat as long as I was in the full control of my senses.

-You felt no joy? No election? he asks. You had no moment of completeness?

-I was stitched from my arse to my elbow. I was tired. I was resentful and I wanted to cut my own hands off.

-And then?

-Then I had a cup of tea and six weeks later, I felt better.

This is one of those books whose every word needs to be savored. Schofield has given thought to the thoughts of “our woman” and carefully crafted them into this book. And in doing so she has given unique insight to the mind and the pains it endures.

Episode 15 – Page 154

When they came; I’d been expecting them. Knew how they’d look, knew I would know they’d come before they knocked on my door. And I did. the phone rang. Naturally the phone rang. The phone always rings. This is the problem with the phone. I nearly miss the days when we’d go two and a half miles to the pub and wait out the evening for the pay phone to ring for us, for someone to call out is so and so here: a call from England. And everyone would push out of the way and let you through in a hurry, all hoping the voice would still be there on the line for ya. And it was similar when they came to my door to tell me about Jimmy. I only hoped the miracle would be he was still there, but I had know for so much longer than they gave me credit for, that he was not.

Malarky by Anakana Schofield is a great piece of literature that should be savored, not rushed through in its reading. It provides great insights to the mind and thoughts of one person and gives readers fodder to consider their own situations in life.

Extracted from Malarky by Anakana Schofield © 2012 Anakana Schofield. Reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Link to Anakana Schofield’s website

Link to Biblioasis webpage for Malarky

 

Getting to Understand the situation of ‘That Guy’| Review of “Martin John” by Anakana Schofield (2015) Biblioasis

We have all pondered the individual that seems disturbed or odd in some way. We wonder about their thoughts or their actions but we forget about them after a little while. So what makes them who they are? Anakana Schofield goes into the mind and the life of one such person in her thought-provoking novel Martin John.

Page 20- What They Know:

He remembered the strange fluorescent light, the organized nature of the room and how odd (it was) for a country dental practice to be so well planned inside a house: treatment room + waiting room. The physical space, so carefully executed, had made him comfortable and sleepy.

While the narrative of this book is disjointed and jumbled at times, it helps in giving us the feeling of what Martin John’s life is like. We are given small paragraphs of thoughts and emotions on large blank pages which allow us that moment to ponder and question what we have just read. And in many cases our reflections leave us confused about the protagonist. We know he has done something bad and he will do something bad again but those points are ambiguous in their details. So we read on to try to gain more details.

Page 82 – What They Don’t Know: He Has Made Mistakes

  He has made mistakes:

Martin John has made mistakes.

Baldy Conscience continues to be his biggest mistake. He has been a five-year mistake. A repeat spade-to-the-back-of-his-head mistake. Baldy Conscience lied when moving in. He cannot remember the exact shape of the lies but Baldy Conscience is not who he said he was. He said he was a quiet man. Baldy Conscience said he liked building ships out of matchsticks.

Baldy Conscience was when all the latest trouble officially started again. He is at the bottom of his current situation and he knows it. He even tells the Doctor in the hospital about Baldy Conscience. He fucked everything up for me. I think there;s legions of people out there bothered by him. He’s probably causing the trouble in Beirut. If you killed him now or tomorrow all would be well. He doesn’t smile when he says it. The Doctor looks down at his paper and etches something onto it.

I can’t emphasize enough that this novel isn’t an easy read. This isn’t the type of novel where an English teacher would use to show proper grammar and language usage. But it does show an important slice of the human condition.

Page 140 – What they know: the phone calls.

Martin John observes the Manager fella leaving the office much more than usual. Each time the Manager fella approaches the guard’s desk, Martin John – never doing anything more illegal or illicit than reading the Bible to keep Dallas happy – brightly tells the Manager fella that Rain will fall.

Rain will fall, he’ll announce even when rain is indeed falling and has been falling for the past 7 hours. His choice of the same statement troubles the Manager fella, who is actively patrolling for signs of poor body scent. Martin John is onto him. And onto them. and onto talcum powder. Lily of the Valley. Every orifice dusted with the stuff. Shoes lined with it. He is springing lily puffs, if he moves swift. Martin John is onto them. He even pats a layer of it into his underpants.

The thing none of them factor in is the thing none of them know.

While it isn’t a simple read, Martin John by Anakana Schofield is a great read. She has documented a slice of the human condition in this book in all it’s muddle and confusion and fears. Therefore it is a great piece of literature.

Extracted from Martin John by Anakana Schofield © 2015 Anakana Schofield. Reprinted with permission from the publisher

 

Link to Anakana Schofield’s website

Link to Biblioasis page for Martin John

Describing the Mundane Around Us | Review of “Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway” by Alexandra Oliver (2013) Biblioasis

We stumble through our daily lives but do we give it a serious thought? Is what we go through every day really that important or is it even dangerous? That is the thoughts Alexandra Oliver makes us consider as one reads her collection of poetry called Meeting Tormentors in Safeway.

Test Cape (page 28)

 

I’ve landed on a way to try you out

and gauge your mettle. Please put on this cape.

(It’s far too late to think about escape).

I’d like you now to venture out without

 

your other clothes. The cape will have to do.

Go down to Omar’s Maxi Milk and buy

a pack of Belmont Milds, and would you try

to see if they have raisin bread? Milk too.

 

When you reach across to get the change,

contrive a little conversation. Muse

about the way the Raiders always lose.

Say thank you. Take your time and rearrange

 

your stuff inside the bag. And please try not

to panic. You’ll need Herculean force

to pull it off. You are aware, of course,

it’s August, and it’s criminally hot,

 

and Omar has that huge electric fan

he borrowed from the film set just last week.

If you are not arrested as a freak,

I’ll know you are no ordinary man.

I was introduced to Oliver’s work in the Summer 2014 reading edition of The Walrus Magazine (Link to my review here) where her poem Watching the Cop Show in Bed was published. The simple and profound observations she put in that poem exists also in her book, causing the mind’s eye to open to observe reality in a new light.

Ottawa Walk-In Clinic Waitng Room, 9PM – Page 12

The girl at the desk lives in fear of the phone.

The boy in the chair keeps his foot on a plant.

An old lady mouths her novenas, alone;

I read our phone number out like a chant.

The college kid barks in the crook of his arm.

The bum takes his sock off to check the infection.

A poster describes the contagion and harm

of love under bridges without one’s protection.

While cold-hearted bulbs keep an eye on the gloom,

our son will not take his prescription of fear

but joyfully buzzes in loops round the room

because he’s been told there’s a bug in his ear.

 

It is brilliant how these simple words and phrases makes one think – and think hard. The phrasing is bright and lyrical making the imagery easy to remember.

Modern Camera – Page 53

This is the setting for when you’re inside.

This is the setting for candlelight.

This is the setting for sunrise and sunsets

This is for portraits of people at night.

 

This is the setting for servings of food.

This is the setting for things under glass.

This is the setting for files and documents.

This is the setting for flowers and grass.

 

This is the setting for watching explosions.

This is the setting for watching the match.

This is the setting to hold to the spyhole

And see children cry when you’ve fastened the latch.

 

This is the setting for trembling hands.

This is the setting for earthquakes and fire.

This is the one for the tyrant-in-training

(You cower below them and tilt the lens higher).

 

This is the setting for rocks and hard places.

This is the setting for blood and ablution.

And this button here is the one that you press

When shooting yourself is the only solution.

Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway by Alexandra Oliver is a profound and eye-opening read. A reader is awakened to the world around themselves by these poems and ponders the ways of their existence.

Link to Alexandra Oliver’s website

Link to Biblioasis page for Meeting the Tormentors in Safeway