Tag Archives: Canadian Fiction – 2017

Learning that a “Place” shapes our Identity as well |Review of “The Lightkeeper’s Daughters (2017) Harper Avenue

Jean E. Pendziwol will be appearing at the 2017 Toronto Word on the Street Festival

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‘Place’ plays an important element in our identities. Where we are from and how we were raised in those surroundings play important parts to our personalities. Yet sometimes we forget where we came from and wonder why we feel so ‘lost’ in our modern-day lives. And that is the theme that Jean E. Pendziwol explores in her novel The Lightkeeper’s Daughters.

Page 10-11 Morgan

“All right.” Ms. Campbell sighs, extending the folder in her hand. “You’re Morgan Fletcher,” she removes her glasses and places them on the desk. “I see.”

I know what she sees. She sees what she wants to. She sees my straight black hair, dyed so that it shines like midnight. She sees dark kohl circling my gray eyes, my tight jeans and high black boots and the row of silver studs along my earlobes. She sees my pale face that I’ve made even paler, and my bright red lips. She doesn’t see that I am, maybe just a little scared. I won’t let her see that.

I slouch back into the chair, and cross my legs. So that’s how it’s going to be. Fine.

Ms. Campbell opens the folder. “Well, Morgan, community hours, is it? I says here that you have agreed to clean up the graffiti and assist with further maintenance work under the direction of our maintenance supervisor.” She looks at me again. “You’ll be here every Tuesday and Thursday right after school for the next four weeks.”

“Yup.” I tap my toe against the front of the desk and look at my fingernails. They are painted red, like my lips. Blood red.

“I see,” she says. Again. Ms. Campbell pauses for a moment, and I can tell that she is studying me. I know what’s in that folder. I don’t want her judgement. Worse, I don’t want her pity. I shift my gaze to a spider plant on the top of the filing cabinet. She sighs again. “Well, then I guess we`d better get you introduce to Marty.” She leaves the folder containing my past on her desk, and I have no choice; I follow her down the hall.

This is Pendziwol’s first novel and has become one of my favourite’s of the 2017 publishing season. She does two things in a work of fiction that I enjoy  – uses a lyrical style that helps the plot flow AND documents an element of a human condition that conveys a feeling we all endure; wondering who we are and where we come from. The plot weaves between two main characters. Morgan, who is a teenage, angst-ridden, and confused young woman and Elizabeth, a blind, elderly resident of a nursing room. As the two meet and converse, they find out they both have a common history descending from a family who were lighthouse keepers on a series of islands in Lake Superior. Each chapter is told through one of the two women as they slowly learn elements of their common family history.

Pages 76-77 Elizabeth

They stay only about half an hour, and then the nuggets find a resting place in the garbage pail beside the sofa, the latest toy is dropped into the Hello Kitty backpack, and Mr. Androsky is wheeled back to his room, slurping up the last few sips of milk shake. It is a ritual I dismissingly tolerate, but secretly envy.

I have no family to come visit me. No weekly offerings of barely digestible fast food, no cards on my birthday, no one asking if I am well that week or need anything. It is only when I hover on the periphery of Mr. Androsky`s life that it occurs to me that I am missing something. Emily was my life. Yes, there was Charlie, too, for a time. But I could not bring myself to reach out to him. I could not forgive his misguided actions or contemplate an apology from him, should he even wanted to provide one. And I could not be sorry for those things that he would not forgive. So we lived in mutual exile from each other.  He was never acknowledged, never present, but always a shadow that hovered just beyond our existence. We had been so close, the three of us; he our champion and we his adoring followers. But darkness swallowed us, and when I had to choose,  I chose Emily.

This is one of those books I would recommend a person takes a few minutes at the end of a busy day to sit down with and ponder over. While it is a lyrical read, the prose is also simple and elegant. Pendziwol is also able to capture the speech patterns of each of her protagonists here perfectly. A reader can clearly grasp both what young Morgan or elderly Elizabeth are thinking and desiring. Empathy comes easily with the well-crafted phrases Pendziwol uses here.

Page 274 Elizabeth

I stand beneath the shower, hands gripping the chrome bars fastened to the tile walls. Water rains down, trickling like a thousand streams across my body. I close my eyes and lift my head, allowing the drops to flood my face and mold my hair until it hangs, sleek and thick, a snowy river dripping puddles that collect at my feet and disappear down the drain in the floor. I can feel the wolf, prowling. He is becoming more persistent, visiting almost daily now. He is patient. He sits, watching, waiting. I wipe my eyes, but they fill as quickly, and I don’t bother clearing them again. I reach out a hand, exploring the wall until I find the tap and turn it fully it fully to the right. I gasp when the cold water stabs at me, as cold as the Lake. My eyes flash open at the shock, but still they see nothing. My skin prickles. My pulse quickens.

The Lightkeeper’s Daughters by Jean E. Pendziwol is certainly one of my favourite reads of the 2017 season. It is emotional and lyrical and enlightening. Certainly a great piece of literature and hopefully not one of the last of novels from this author.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada page for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters

Link to Jean E. Pendziwol`s website

Link to my Q&A with Jean E. Pendziwol – “Place plays an important role in most of my work and I like to bring my readers here, to my home, through my words.”

“With this 2017 novel, I went in a different direction, writing many scenes in the early 1900s and including a fantastical element, something I’ve never before experimented with.” | Q&A with novelist Angie Abdou on her new book “In Case I Go.”

Angie Abdou is one of the most popular writers on the Canadian literary scene right now. Since being a finalist for the Canada Reads series a few years ago, her works seem to reflect a reality that is consistent with many readers in their day-to-day lives. Now with her latest work, Abdou digs a bit into the past a bit. Abdou was kind enough to answer a few questions not only her upcoming work In Case I Go, but also a few of her upcoming projects as well for me.

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1) First off, could you give an outline of “In Case I Go” ?

Eli’s parents (Lucy and Nicholas) have reached a rough spot in their marriage and decide to leave the hectic city in an attempt to find peace in a small tourist, mining town in the mountains. They move into a little miner shack originally owned by Eli’s great-great grandfather and namesake, Elijah Mountain. While Lucy and Nicholas deal with their own adult problems, Eli befriends the next door neighbours, a Ktunaxa man named Sam and his troubled niece named Mary.  Gradually it becomes clear that Eli must make amends to Mary. They’re haunted by the mistakes of their ancestors, and are challenged to find a way to reconcile.

2)  Was there any research involved in writing this book? Is there anything you are hoping to accomplish with it?

 
Yes, I did a lot of research. First, I read theoretical texts about history and haunting. I didn’t intend to write a historical novel but, of course, I kept getting pulled that way. Initially, I resisted scenes set in the far past, but eventually I had to give up that resistance. The characters are, after all, haunted by … the past. Once I realized the book had to go there, the Fernie Museum Director Ron Ullrich proved tremendously useful – with details on everything from what kitchen clocks would look like to what women’s bathing suits would look like to what men would have stayed home from the war to how much one might pay for a prostitute.  What do I hope to accomplish? My main hope is that readers will be entertained and compelled to finish the book, enthusiastically even. After that, what each reader takes away from the book is up to that reader. But I’m very curious. I’m ready to hear from readers.

3) There is some confusion over official release dates of the book – Can you confirm the official date of its release? Are you planning a reading/book tour in connection for it? If yes, are there any particular dates/events that you are looking forward to attending?

The book will launch September 14th in Fernie BC. The launch is co-hosted by the Fernie Heritage Library (as the first BOOKED! event of the season) (Link to BOOKED! event page) and the Fernie Museum (as the opening event for the fall Chautauqua). (Link to the Fernie Museum website)
 

4) You mentioned in our last Q&A “I learn things with each book I write, and apply those lessons to the next.” Now that you have written another book, do you still feel that is true?

Lately, I’ve heard myself saying that each book is a reaction against the last book.  My 2014 novel BETWEEN was very contemporary and rooted in realism. With this 2017 novel, I went in a different direction, writing many scenes in the early 1900s and including a fantastical element, something I’ve never before experimented with.  With this 2017 novel, my biggest challenge was the Ktunaxa element, what stories I could tell, whose voices I could depict, and how to do so as carefully and respectfully as possible. With my 2018 book, I’m reacting against that challenge and telling a story that is entirely my own: the memoir of a hockey mom.

5) Your fan page on Facebook mentions that your hockey memoir “HOME ICE: Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom” will be published next year. Am I right in assuming this is your first non-fiction book that has been published? How did you like writing this book as opposed to your fiction work?

I have this delusion around writing. The last book I wrote was always “super fun” to write and the next book I write will be “super easy.” The book I”m currently writing is always torture.  I”m currently writing HOME ICE.

6) You also mention on Facebook that you have a collection of essays on sports literature being published. Could you give a bit of a description about that work? How did you get involved with that?

My day job is university professor, and I often teach sport literature courses. These types of courses are increasing in popularity in Canada and US, and as author of a swimming-wrestling novel (THE BONE CAGE), I frequently get invited to speak to students of sport lit. During these visits, professors have complained about a lack of secondary sources, essays to which they might direct their students as samples or use as material to write lectures. Jamie Dopp and I put together this collection in response to that complaint. There are ten essays on the Canadian sport lit books taught most frequently, novels like King Leary, The Good Body, and Shoeless Joe.

7) (So here is the dreaded question I ask writers but I get yelled at by my followers of my blog if I don’t ask it.) Are you working on any new fiction right now? If yes, are there any details you can share?

My attention right now is focused on the hockey-mom memoir. But there are some fiction ideas simmering – nothing I could articulate yet.

8) As I talk to a lot of writers right now, they are getting a little fatigued with social media. Yet, many fans of their writings use social media to connect with their favourite writers. Are you still comfortable with social media as a means to connect with your fan base?

Finding a balance with social media and not letting it take up time that could be directed to more real activities is always a challenge. However, for now, I do think I need to be there. I appreciate the way it keeps me connected to writing and reading communities throughout the country. It allows me to live remotely without feeling isolated or disconnected.

9) Is Fernie still an idyllic place for you to live in and write? How is your family reacting to your writing career?

My husband tolerates my writing career, barely.  I travel a lot with writing commitments and when I am home I’m often stressed about deadlines. He’s not a writer, or even much of a reader, so he tires of both those things – the absence and the anxiety. My kids love books, though, and they’re proud that I’m a writer, though they talk as if “Angie Abdou, the writer” is someone different than “Mom.”  “Mom” is far less interesting.
In 2015, I moved to Alberta for work – I’m a professor at Athabasca University – but I still own a place in Fernie and am actively involved in the arts community there, helping run a writers’ series called BOOK!.  Yes, it is idyllic.
*****