Tag Archives: Canadian Literature

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

warlight

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

Pages 6 Part One – A Table Full of Strangers

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

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

Pages 31-32 Hellfire

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

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

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

Page 135 The Saints

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

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

*****

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

One of Most Well-Crafted Reads of 2018 | Review of “I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter” by David Chariandy (2018) McClelland & Stewart

 

tell

There is no doubt that many of us feel anxiety about the future. Everything from the rise of populist leaders to the rise of the costs of the items that we need to exist can cause our blood pressure to ‘rise ‘ (Then add to our health to the list of things to be anxious about.) Yet we still want our younger loved-ones to have some confidence for their future. David Chariandy has felt those same fears and desires when he considered his daughter and her future and has brilliantly shared those views in his new book I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter.

Pages 9-10 The Occasion

But I find myself wondering just when a child begins to dwell in that place of tomorrow. I wonder, most often, about your life in the place of today, and what you have already seen and heard, have already understood and been made to feel. I wonder if there are moments, despite your tough postures, when you have felt neither confident nor safe. I wonder about the persistent message sent to girls in the news, in movies, in language and image, and in the rhetoric of politics and business, especially girls who share your ancestry but who have not had your special opportunities. I wonder about the electronic “tomorrow” that you are already navigating in your basement room, when at night you peer into a screen and the world casts its lurid energies upon your brown face.

This slim volume is the most profound cultural artifact that I have encountered this year. Its 120 pages are filled with personal and emotional thoughts that Chariandy was kind enough to craft into a book and share with the world. He takes some personal moments with his daughter that are heart-wrenching (A moment where a father/daughter visit to a buffet is ruined when a bigoted patron butts her way in front of him and remarks “I was born here. I belong here.” Or the joyful events of his daughter’s thirteenth birthday being grimly overshadowed by bitter politics and the Inauguration of President Donald Trump) Chariandy has given us serious readers a voice to confirm our concerns about the state of the world.

Pages 51-52 The Test

You did not create the inequalities and injustices of this world, daughter. You are neither solely nor uniquely responsible to fix them. If there is anything to learn from the story of our ancestry, it is that you should respect and protect yourself; that you should see, truly see, the vulnerability and the creativity and the enduring beauty of others, in the desperate hope for a better life, either migrate or are pushed across the hardened borders of nations and find themselves stranded in unwelcoming lands. We live in a time, dearest daughter, when the callous and ignorant in wealthy nations have made it their business to loudly proclaim who are the deserving “us” (those really “us”) and who are the alien and undeserving “them.” But the story of our origins offers us a different insight. The people we imagine most apart from “us” are, oftentimes, our own forgotten kin.

A reader can sense the quiet thought and crafted tone in this book that Chariandy has down in his previous novels. He is reflecting on his reality and the reality of his daughter and giving a us all a unique perspective to consider. It is a book that isn’t all preachy doom and gloom but it isn’t a book that is sunshine a rainbows either. It documents a reality that is in flux and needs to be considered and reflected upon.

Pages 107-109

You are a complex girl, my daughter. For some of my friends back east, your preferences for sushi and skiing and jackets of Gore-Tex instantly identify you as a “Vancouverite.” Your mother once, much to my dismay, pronounced you a “camper.” And for a short while, you yourself like the term “tomboy,” with is promised alternative to the categories of “girl” and “boy.” For some of my relatives, you are Black; for others you are Indian. And as a girl of African, South Asian, and European heritage, some may consider you still another identity, that of being “mixed.” Sometimes there is unfair privilege in being mixed, and of thereby avoiding certain degrees of prejudice simply because you might be lighter skinned that other Black or South Asian girls. Other times, there is a foolish denigration associated with being mixed. Of course, as you prove abundantly, there is beauty in being mixed; and I have heard some well-wishing folk proclaim people like you the happy future for humankind, imagining that racial prejudice will come to an end when everyone, through countless inter-mixing, achieves the same features and tone of brown. Forgive me dearest one, but I don’t share this hope. The future I yearn for is not one in which we will all be clothed in sameness, but one in which we will finally learn to both read and respectfully discuss our differences.

And you are a Canadian too, an identity that contains a specific story, promotes specific benefits and ideals, as well as specific illusions and blindnesses. Not so long ago in Canada’s history, a girl like you might very well have been denied citizenship, security, and belonging. As your father, I wonder about the extent to which you can now envision a just future for yourself here. My question is far from unique in the world today, and it links you to young visible minorities in the U.S. and Britain, Australia and Germany, and many other countries.

David Chariandy has proved himself a truly gifted and enlightened writer by sharing his book  I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter with the world. It is an emotional and well-crafted read and no doubt, one of my favourites reads of 2018.

*****

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for I’ve Been Meaning To Tell You: A Letter To My Daughter

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Brother

Link to my review of David Chariandy’s Soucouyant

Looking At Us Instead Of Our Gadgets | Review of “The Amateurs” by Liz Harmer (2018) Alfred A. Knopf Canada

amateurs

There are many of us who are required to use technology in our day-to-day lives. Those devices have a certain appeal to us at first but then we realize that they seem to control us. The photocopier that never works. The printer that always jams. The computer that runs slower and slower. We finds ourselves being submissive to more and more devices than to actual human supervisors and wonder if that submission is healthy or even that necessary. Liz Harmer has taken those  angsts about technology and given us readers something truly something scary yet familiar to ponder over in her novel The Amateurs. 

Page 34-35 The Dreamers

Long before most of the world had drifted away in lifeboats, long before port was anything more than a theory of Albrecht Doors, Marie and Jason had been newly married and living in romantic squalor. Just downtown and near the church where Philip now held sway, their apartment on Caroline was partitioned within a larger building that had once been called Home for the Friendless. The ceilings were high, and next to their working refrigerator was an icebox that might have worked, too, if they’d known what to do with it. The claw-foot tub in the bathroom was stained grey where it wasn’t chipped to reveal charcoal-hued metal underneath. Its late-addition shower nozzle always pointed in a direction that invited mould into the crevices where no mop could reach. From outside, the red brick building was stately as a manor. For while Marie believed that her artistic fantasies of a place like this had been so strong, she had conjured it.

Both Marie and Jason were still students, and most of the time when they were home they walked around half dressed. Marie kept her fingernails short, and always had blue and black stains on her finger pads. She had set up folding tables in the living room where she listened to singer-songwriters or riot grrrls as she made her prints and hung them along the many rows of twine stretched across every wall; these served as the apartment’s only decorations. Romance had confused her. She had believed in the saddest Leonard Cohen songs, that a song was enough that art was enough She would sing along, pulling a squeegee through a silkscreen frame. At regular intervals, Jason would poke his head out of the second bedroom – his office – to admire her in her paint-stained shorts, her thin bra. To make more coffee, he unplugged the refrigerator. Otherwise the fuse would blow.

One should not think this is a book about the evils of technology but more a peak into the human condition and our relations to our gadgets.  Or as Harmer so poetically  told me in a Q&A about this book: One big inspiration was a fantasy of the good life and how to find it. (Link to my Q&A with Liz HarmerThe plot deals around a odd device called ‘port’ which consumers have found irresistible. Yet since the arrival of the device, the world has started to seriously depopulate. The story covers two groups of people, one living in fading ruins of a major northern city while the other is centred on the remainders of the executives of the parent company of “port” who are trying to come to terms of the outcome of their device. Harmer brilliant captures different personality types and varied states of emotions that truly reflect the human condition.

Page 115 The Optimists

People’s faces were lit bluish by the moon- and LED-light. They were now rising from their seats at the many tables, dancing on the soft artificial turf. During the droughts of the years before port, read grass had become more taboo than smoking or gas-powered cars. The turf was already marred by dents and scratches, coming apart like an old carpet, and the had nothing to replace it with. Soon some of them would probably be enlisted to lay tile.

“Desire used to be the main thing we wanted in a good design,” Dawn said. “But what is desire being replaced here?”

There was no logo for Stable. It was only a word in a person’s mind or mouth.

“With stability,” Brandon said. His thin slices of turkey were complemented by a salad of dandelion greens and balsamic vinegar, and its sharp savour filled his mouth. The scent of manure wafted towards him, but they had got used to the smells of life near poultry, and without indoor plumbing or frequent showering.

The compostable plate was sagging in Brandon’s left hand, so he sat down cross-legged on the turf and tried to balance the plate on his knee.

“I guess so. I haven’t figured out yet what the design principles of stability would be, this sort of stability, or how one would make a logo for it,” Dawn said. She laughed half-heartily. “A few years ago, you know, I would have said, ‘Who wants stability?’ Give me chaos any day.'”

“We’re part of a corporation in the true sense,” Brandon said. “From the Latin corpus.” We’re all parts of a living body, despite our stability. Stability is not unchanging.”

“Latin, huh?”

This is one of those types of reads that is difficult yet worthy of making one’s way through the book and pondering over the themes for a few minutes at the end. Most of our lives are filled with muddled thoughts and fragile emotions and Harmer has brilliantly explored what would happen to us beings if our devices brought out an element of human nature that would ruin civilization. The wording is perfectly crafted and planned. This book took Harmer a bit of time to produce and her time was certainly worth the effort she put into it. This would be a perfect read for a book club to use and discuss.

Page 205

It was too dark to see what made the leaves tremble, what those branches crack. Animals. Wind. He wanted to pore over the memories as one did and archive, to hang onto each morsel from the world he knew. Librarian. Philip McGuire, MLS. He wanted to page through his whole pathetic, lost life: the faces of his children at each stage, the backyard slide stuck with autumn leaves, his wife before the divorce with a red scarf in her black hair. But he was here.

Still, these images made up a self, and he felt as though he’d stepped into the waiting armour of his body, had fastened each of its parts tight.

Landing here and now was to be held under water by a bully. Under water – here – this was all there was. His eyes were open wide now. See? See? You happy now?

“I am most certainly not happy,” Philip whispered, though in the middle of the night he could find a certain kind of pleasure: a moment’s peace, the reward of rest after a long difficult day. Was his presence here a prank? Had everyone been thrown somewhere hard to land, bewildered?

“How do I get home? I want to get home.”

Liz Harmer has documented strong elements of the human condition in her book The Amateurs. It is certainly an unique read yet also one that is worthy of thought and discussions. Certainly a great piece of literature.

****

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

Link to Liz Harmer’s website

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

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

divide

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

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

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

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

*****

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

Link to D. K. Stone’s website

 

 

 

A 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

 

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

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

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

 

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

978-1-55152-703-1_incaseigo

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

 

Documenting the Muddle of Our Lives | Review of “This Is All A Lie” by Thomas Trofimuk (2017) Enfield & Wizenty

Lie

Do we honestly consider the relationships we are involved in? Do we even look at them in a linear fashion? Or do we look at them at a jumble of thoughts and reflections in our minds? More than likely we consider the ending before the beginning while recalling bits of history and snippets of therapy when we think about who we connect with. And that is one of  the realizations  that Thomas Trofimuk has us honestly consider in his book This Is All A Lie.

Page 303

You might know people who would be bothered by the placement of the acknowledgements at the beginning of this book. You might be the kind of person who likes the acknowledgements at the back of the book where they belong – right beside the note of the font and a picture of the author. Mea culpa. Mea culpa.

Here is another possible lie: you will be introduced to a character in the chapter immediately following these acknowledgements. His name is Raymond Daniels but nobody calls him Raymond except for an aunt in Billings, Montana, who owns seventeen cats and, as Ray`s mom used to say, really enjoys the wine. Ray works as an arborist with the city, and sometimes he talks to trees. He will be up in a bucket, suspended within the high branches of a popular, or an elm, or a conifer and he will have an impulse to talk with the tree. Sometimes, Ray Daniels surrenders to the impulse.

It’s tempting to show Ray having a conversation with a tree here, but to really understand him there is a moment three months after his mom dies that is perhaps more illuminating. His mom’s house has been sold, and the new owners will take possession in a couple weeks. For the previous three weekends, he and Tulah and the girls have been clearing out the contents of his mom’s life. For the girls, it was for the first hour, then just hard work and boring. After two hours, Tulah drove the girls to her mom’s house.

Trofimuk has gleefully mixed up this book. He has placed the epilogue and the acknowledgements near the beginning. The pages run backwards. The chapter numbers sometimes come up at half increments.  And instead of just mentioning the typeface, he describes elements of it’s designer’s life in vivid detail. Yet in all this mess, readers get an insight to the emotional relationships that encompass Ray and Tulah. Trofimuk has stirred up a mess of a narrative here but he has given a glimpse to the human condition of relationships.

Pages 215-214

He looks at the elms along the street. One of them is in trouble. It was a dry year. Rain was sporadic and not enough. A gust of wind bends the trees and a flurry of leaves is scattered across the road.

Ray`s job as an arborist was not the original career he’d pursued. Ray had his law degree. He was practising in a well-respected firm. Being a lawyer was what he thought he wanted. However, on the fourth month of the second year of articling with the law firm of Brice, Jones & Farnsworth, Ray woke up at 4 a. m. with chest pains. This was the beginning of his realization that law was not for him. At the hospital, the doctors were surprised by Ray’s blood pressure but his heart was fine. For now. They said it was a panic attack. A breakdown of everything that protects us from being overwhelmed by anxiety. He need to move more He needed to find a way to cope with stress. But Ray knew the slow build of twitchy unhappiness from his work as a lawyer was killing him. It wasn’t stress and it wasn’t the hours  – it was being completely aware of his unhappiness. There was a stench around the entire occupation that started to stick to his skin. Even the more benign fields of law contained a sleaziness factor. The so-called “heart incident” was an epiphany for Ray. The occupation of lawyer was killing him. He was one of two stars among the eight articling lawyers with the firm but he was ready to turn away. It was not easy, but he knew he was ready.

He’d spent four summers and a year out of high school working at his uncle’s green house and he was drawn to the memory of that joyful time. Ray’s training was not formal, but it was extensive.

He got a job with the city’s Parks department. It was hard work, and they kept trying to promote him into positions where he no long actually worked on trees – but rather, managed other people who worked with trees. Ray kept refusing these promotions. But, two weeks ago he accepted a promotion with the conditions of freedom. He managed a team, he was in the field as much as he wanted, and he got a hefty raise.

It was easier to say what he did now. Arborist was easier on his conscience than lawyer. It was an additional syllable but it was easier to say. He smiles at the memory of a woman at a party who asked him what he did and he told her, except she heard abortionist. “You actually tell people that?~ He face was a squished horror of revulsion. “What, you don’t like trees?” Ray said. But she was already gone.

This is a complex novel but there is a beauty in that complexity. Readers come to the realization that human nature is  not simple linear construct. We deal on a daily basis with not only our own emotions and desires but the latent desires and emotions of other people and that whole construct can be messy and tiring. Trofimuk has documented that complexity of the human condition in a muddled fashion, but that is way life is.

Page 215

“I want you back, Ray,” Nancy says. “Even though you are a prick, I want you back. Even though you’re mostly an asshole, I want things to be the same as they were.”

Ray is not sure what she just said, of for how long she’s been talking.

“What?”

“What do you mean – what? I think I’ve been quite clear.”

“You want me back,” he says.

“Yes. I want all of you, but I’ll take what I can get.”

“Why?”

“Because I love you. Love is about compromise. It’s about bending. It’s about taking what you can get.”

“I’m sorry?”

“I’m talking about love”

“I don’t think that’s love, Nancy”

“I accept you as you are,” she says.

“You don’t even know me.”

She leans forward and pours another drink. “I know you cheat on your wife. And I know your cock really well.”

“Yes, I know you do, but that’s not exactly me. It’s a body part.”

Ray looks at his parking receipt, and halfway down the block he can see a uniformed woman checking the windshields of cars. His parking slip is good for six more minutes. “Any chance we can finish up in the next six minutes?”

Thomas Trofimuk has documented an honest element of the human condition in his book This Is All A Lie. The plot is muddled and disjointed, the pages run backwards and the epilogue is near the beginning. But reading and finishing the book is an enlightening experience. Truly a unique piece of literature.

*****

Link to Great Plains Publications website for This Is All A Lie.

Link to Thomas Trofimuk’s website