Tag Archives: Coming of age

A Coming-of-Age novel Worth Pondering Over | Review of “Life in the Court of Matane” by Eric Dupont – Translated by Peter McCambridge (2015) QC Fiction

A “Thank you” to QC Fiction for sending me a sample of their work!

qcfinf16-coverlivrematane_rvb

It is amazing the amount of baggage of memories we carry with us from our childhoods.  While the incidents may have occurred many decades ago, the simplest thoughts and emotions from that period of our lives still haunt our thoughts and dreams, almost still bringing us to paralysis. But somehow reliving some of memories of other people help up get over our own fears and memories. And one such classic coming-of-age novel is Eric Dupont’s Life in the Court of Mantane.

Pages 9-10

I turned forty recently, the age my grandmother was when I came into the world. This made me wonder how I would react if, on a trip back in time, I happened to come across the little boy I once was. I wonder if he would agree to become my friend  and, especially, if he would let me be his friend. I very much doubt it. In his eyes, I would have all the flaws his parents had – or at least those he would be able to see on the rare occasions we managed to meet, since I work all the time. He would certainly not my appalling propensity, inherited from my father, to suspect others of being as dumb as a stump. Although we might both like the same music. One thing’s for sure: I’d probably get on his nerves, telling him to calm down all the time, insisting that things would work out just fine, that becoming an adult would end many of the torments of childhood. Far from being consoled, he would think I wasn’t taking he troubles seriously. In short, I wonder if we would have much in common. His verbosity would annoy me, I’m sure. Plus, I don’t like people who live in fear, and this boy was, if memory serves, absolutely terrorized three days out of five. He would have a very strong country accent, too. Concerned for his education, I would correct his pronunciation. He would be offended and end up hating me forever. Perhaps it’s for the best that we never did meet.

Dupont documents well the thoughts of a young lad living in the Gaspé region of Quebec in the 1970s. We witness the turmoils and dreams of this boy as he patiently plans his escape from his father and his wife. Readers are literally vaulted between a boy watching Nadia Comaneci’s performance at the Olympic Games to elements of bullying and abuse in the school yard to a odd family home life all in one book.  He must try to not only deal with these elements but try to define them in some manner. And his vivid imagination leads him to bitterly hope to escape one day.

Page 189

For my twelfth birthday, Henry VIII (my father) gave me twelve hens. It was, he said, time for me to take on my responsibilities, and the birds were the perfect way to teach me. Some fathers try to do the same by offering their children a magnificent pony of a gleaming moped to ride, making all the other children instantly envious and proving key to their popularity in the schoolyard. The idea of becoming a teenager while raising poultry left me skeptical, but I was willing to give the king the benefit of the doubt.

When Jewish boys turn thirteen, they celebrate their bar mitzvah, where they are given the world on a silver platter. The world or a condo in Florida, depending on the family’s means.

In our house, it was hens that were given. By the dozen.

He had chosen Rhode Island Reds, perfect for budding poultry farmers looking for high egg returns. Hens of this breed lay somewhere between two hundred fifty and three hundred eggs per year. A phenomenal return. Rhode Island Reds are considered docile and low-maintenance. Now, I’m willing to take the farming brochures at their word, but after my terrible experience with hens in 1982, I swore never to encourage the reproduction of what I still to this day consider to be feathered vermin. The Rhode Island Red is the state bird of Rhode Island. Naturally. It had no say in the matter.

In practice, I think the hens were a roundabout way for the king to put me back in my place.

I know I have said it often enough on this blog but I will state it again. ‘This is a coming-of-age novel that a reader needs to carefully read and ponder over in a quiet space.” Even with the book being set in rural Quebec, there are elements that Dupont brings forward in the plot that are universal in all our experiences growing up during the 1970s and 80s. And reviewing those issues now and reconsidering them sort of helps with the traumas

Page 153

Supper in Saint-Ulric invariably ended with an order from the king or queen. “The dishes.” Staring out at the forest from the kitchen window, my hands in warm soapy water, I wondered who would help my sister do the dishes if I blasted my brains out all over the ceiling. I wasn’t cruel enough to leave my chores to her. “You can dry, Sis! And make sure you wipe off all the sauce stains. Otherwise Anne Boleyn will shout at us again.” Just behind us we could hear the wet sounds of the sovereigns kissing. Their bellies full, they rubbed their moist snouts together. It turned my stomach in the most indescribable way. Nausea.

Life in the Court of Matane by Eric Dupont is certainly a unique coming-of-age novel that documents the emotions of growing up in the 1970s well. A read that is worth pondering over making it definitely a good piece of literature.

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Link to QC Fiction’s website for Life in the Court of Matane

A Unique and Emotional Novel from a Talented Writer | Review of “Quarry” by Catherine Graham (2017) Two Wolves Press

Quarry Cover from Natalie jpeg

There is something about becoming absorbed with a well-crafted, coming-of-age novel. Not only do we learn we are not alone with the pains and sufferings that we all endured during that fundamental time of our lives but we gain a better understanding of the types of confusions that other people endured while growing up. And that is exactly what we get when one reads Catherine Graham’s brilliant novel Quarry.

Pages 9-10 Nobody

I didn’t know what a quarry was until I saw the one that would belong to us. A pit carved for mining. Dig what you need – the dynamite gap –  leave a hole for evidence. Don’t think about air filling it up. Air fills up everything. Water makes the quarry more than it is; the blue we were drawn to. On the dock, looking out. My mother on one side. My father, the other. The big shoulders pressing me in.

It was our first summer living beside a lake that wasn’t a lake, with wind tents of blue moving in the jewelled sunlight, up and gone and up again. the limestone, cut into jagged rock, layered with the weight of dead animals, ancient sea animals, imprints. Lush green trees, they surrounded as a forest. Dad had found the place by chance after spotting the For Sale sign outside a white gate that led to a long gravel driveway, a bend that led to a mini-lake, the house of Mom’s dreams.

We made up dives that summer, me and Cindy. The Watermelon Dive – legs in a V. The About-to-Die Dive – a rambling, dramatic shotgun death off the dock. The Scissor Kick Dive – a flutter of pointed legs in the air. And the Drowning Dive – rise to the surface and float like the dead fish that smacked against the limestone rock, oozing decay’s stink. With a two-year advantage, I gave my nine-year-old cousin a three-second head start whenever we raced off the dock to reach the floating raft. Sometimes a hit of the giggles cut through my determination – a memory of something we’d laughed about while in the dark, tucked in single beds, or while eating Rice Krispies, opening up our food-filled mouths to shout: see-food diet!

Catherine Graham has lyrically told the story of Caitlin Maharg here. Living beside a quarry presents an idyllic childhood of exploration and excitement for the young girl, but all that is shattered when her mother becomes terminally ill. Through the course of the illness  – and the growth of Caitlin –  a series of embarrassing family secrets emerge that require the young girl to attempt to;  understand, deal with, and heal. And the journey requires the young girl to mature a bit too fast at times.

Pages 51-52 Lifeguard

They were bored now that the keg they’d stolen from Cherry Hill Golf Club was empty, the silver carcass found by Chuck. He doesn’t have proof. He doesn’t know it was us. They all said this. But I knew Chuck knew by that look in his eye, that high-beam gaze.

Pac-Man and pinball were no substitution. Darren spent less time in the Games Room, more time in the back field where the keg used to be. I didn’t see him through the pool’s chain-link fence anymore. The stone in my hand, my only comfort.

“What do you guys do back there?” He was walking me to the Malibu like he always did after the end of my shift, but I couldn’t see his face. The plan was for me to come back later with Brenda. “Why are you walking so fast?”

He stopped. And when he turned, the late sunlight hit him; his eyes were glazed with red squiggles.

“Why are your eyes so red?”

He laughed, and when he tilted his neck, I could see how thick the glaze was.

“It’s not right,” I said. I thought of the druggies at school, their long scraggly hair and rocker T-shirts. Skipping school. Failing tests. Losers.

“What do you know?” His eyes narrowed. “Ever try it?”

I froze.

“Caitlin,” he said. “If you don’t want me to, I’ll stop.”

His eyes softened. Too soft, liquid rushing down a drain.

“Don’t you wanna know what I got ya?” He pulled a necklace from his pocket – an arrow on a silver chain – and swung it back and forth.

I stared at the swaying arrow. “Are you trying to hypnotize me?”

“Here. It’s special.” He clasped it around my neck. “Like you.”

Cold on the hollow of my throat.

It is truly amazing how well this story flows. And the plot is memorable. Graham’s previous work in poetry has built a foundation in writing novels that are unique and well-crafted. This is a great piece of literature which explores the range of human emotions of a young girl in some truly stressful situations.

Page 103-104 Three in a Room

She died Christmas Day. I knew she would. A voice had told me. A voice that wasn’t mine but must’ve been. None of this made sense. But sometimes it did, when I tried not to think about it. Like the way you see a star by looking to the left, just a little.

The quarry was cold when she went into the hospital for the last time, but not cold enough to form a skin. It received the snow and turned the snow to water. Eventually, it would scab over, cap the quarry of life. The fish would anchor rock bottom, dormant in their crypt.

Mom said strange things those last few days while I sat by her bedside in her private room, flipping through old magazines. She seemed anxious about someone. The name Geordie passed through her morphined mouth, followed by: don’t . . . stop it.

I touched her arm. “Who’s Geordie, Mom?”

She muttered more nonsense.

Still, I thought, she’ll come through. She always did. I thought of the time (two years ago? three?) when she spat out blood. I’d never seen such vile red. Even that time she’d come through.

I never knew you could lose so much in one day. And on the biggest day of giving, the day set aside to open gifts with loved ones. I should’ve gone to the hospital; I’d heard the voice by then: She’ll die on Christmas Day. But Dad’s shift was first, and his Caddy was already gone by the time I woke up.

I was watching an old episode of Little House on the Prairie in the family room. The horse-drawn covered wagon was trundling across the television screen when I heard the side door open. He came straight through without taking off his boots. He stood in the middle of the family room for what seemed like a long time. Long enough for the snow to slide off and form a blurry puddle.

“She’s gone.”

“I know.”

Round and round. And then the world stopped.

Quarry is a unique and emotional coming-of-age novel from talented writer Catherine Graham. It is lyrical and memorable hence a great piece of literature. One of my favourite reads of 2017 and hopefully not the last novel from this writer.

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Link to the Blogspot page of Two Wolves Press

Link to Catherine Graham’s website

Link to my Q&A with Catherine Graham about Quarry – (T)he novel is about a young woman who learns to draw on inner strength she didn’t know she had to overcome dramatic challenges on her journey to adulthood.

Learning Along with Prue | Review of “Freight” by Kathryn Mockler (2015) Found Press Media

Freight

There is this difficult notion in society that families are suppose to be this perfect unit that provides us comfort and nurturing. Yet the truth is that families are made up of individuals whose personalities are impossible to deal with. When we try to deal with those people as children, the impression they leave on us can be damaging on us for the rest of our lives. But we need to openly reflect on those people in our adult lives to deal with those traumas they caused us. And reading literature helps us reflect on our own families and our upbringings instead of repressing angers and pains. And Kathryn Mockler’s ebook Freight is a great example of such a story.

Page 5

My grandmother is the type of woman that always remembers to stand up straight and to tell others to do the same. On our yearly visits to Peterborough, I try to avoid my grandmother as much as possible. She doesn’t think I’m very bright. She doesn’t think my mother works enough with me, and so, in the week we spend there, she is determined to make me smarter. She brings out flash cards and makes me do spelling bees for money.

-Look, Vera, look at that. She can’t add, my grandmother says. -Prue, don’t count on your fingers.

I give mother “the look” until she finally says, -Leave her alone. She gets enough of that at school.

We are dropped into Prue’s life just as she is becoming self-aware and questioning the world around her. And there is something wrong with the world around her or at least with the people who should be caring for her in this world. But what is it? As we follow through Prue’s visit with her grandparents, we read as she begins to realize perhaps no one is perfect.

Page 10

My mother gets herself another beer from the cooler. I watch my mother watch Dermot puts his arm absentmindedly around Margaret’s shoulder.

-She drives me crazy too, I say.

My mother laughs. -It doesn’t really affect you because she’s not your mother. You’re just lucky I tried so hard not to be like her.

I don’t know when I noticed my mother getting drunk. Maybe it was when she started talking to that man, a friend of Dermot’s. It seemed like one moment she was fine and the next she was slurring her words. It’s the slurring that bothers me the most because then everyone else knows how drunk she is.

There is a complex therapy that seemed to happen when reading this simple coming-of-age story. We build an empathy with Prue but we also ponder our own lives when we back in Prue’s age. We carefully consider our upbringing and the people around us at that time. And we then look at ourselves now. Do we act better? Do we behave better to the youngster around us now?

Page 12

I feel a bit sorry for my grandmother. She probably has hurt feelings. When my mother leaves the room to get ready, I don’t follow her. I’m glad my mother is going out. I don’t even want to look at her.

I think my grandmother has sensed that something is wrong because she doesn’t bother  me all night. No flash cards or spelling bees. We have a light supper and watch TV.

Kathryn Mockler has a great way of making readers seriously consider their world around themselves with her words and that is exactly what she has done with Freight. Not only do we build empathy with the character but we ponder our own existence on several levels. In short, doing what any piece of literature should do.

*****

Link to Kathryn Mockler’s website

Link to Found Press Media’s website for Freight

 

The Realm of Coming-of-Age |Review of “Bitter Rose” by Martine Delvaux/Translated by David Homel (2015) Linda Leith Publishing

BitterRose

We all have those traumatic moments during our lives where elements seem beyond our control. And even if we never discuss them at great lengths, they haunt our consciousness forever. No doubt, these moments do need to be considered by us once in a while and that is the beauty of the coming-of-age novel. Reading one allows us to remember certain moments in our lives and reflect on them AND to realize we were not alone in our predicament.  Hence Bitter Rose by Martine Delvaux is such a great example of a coming-of-age novel.

Page 2-3

On the evening of July 1st, my mother would wake me up to watch the colourful explosions of the fireworks, I was half asleep at my bedroom window so high in the sky that it floated. That was before the village. That was before my second life. I was still wearing my blue flannelette pajamas, I carried my pink blanket with the satin ribbons everywhere I went, it was cool to the touch, its silky weave was full of bumps, a kind of popcorn stitch you make if you knit very very tight. In that world, men were pale stars in the blind stain of the universe. People said that life was a thing you had to face on your own, you couldn’t expect anything from men, or not very much. There was the story of the one who had left. That was no secret for us, it was a secret for other people, a story full of holes. People said he was tall, he had green eyes like a lake whose bottom is invisible, algae between you toes and soft, gluey mud you sink into far enough to be afraid you’d get stuck. People said it wasn’t the first time, he’d done that kind of thing before, he’d known his share of girls. People said he wore wooden shoes and came from houses that waltzed upon the water. People said he had yellow hair and that he must have gone back to his country, where everyone had yellow hair the way he did.

There is a beauty in the ambiguity of this story. We witness the protagonist go from one situation and one place to another in different stages of her life yet we really get no concrete idea about her life. Her life is somewhat of a muddle and she is trying to figure it out yet quite can’t. And we as readers are along for the ride as we witness her confusion.

Page 20, 21

My village was the kind of village where people were proud to say that everyone knew everyone else. It was a village like any other, like any other place where people keep watch and claim they love one another. It was that way, and sometimes worse than that. You had to work hard to protect a secret. You had to be skilled, and sneaky, you had your hands full. It was a little like carefully building the plot of a detective novel, and afterward, for weeks, you lived off the effort.

It was the kind of village you were better off forgetting, and even when you tried, you were haunted by the hot dog stand on the main street and the swimming pool at the campground that was stuck out by the exit to the highway, where villagers streamed when July rolled around. Families left the grid of the centre of the village and set up shop one kilometre away, at Camp Kittawa, one next to the other in tents and trailers, they spent their weeks’ vacation there and of course every weekend, from Friday evening to Sunday.

***

As the summer days went by with the chlorine treatments, the skin of my nose would peel off in slices, worn-out skin that I pulled off, underneath was the pale pink of fresh flesh. We would forget the sunscreen and our hats. For the duration of the summer, the children turned into crustaceans forced head first, their arms flapping, into boiling water. My stained face was discoloured, like an old car whose doors had been eaten away by rust.

While it is a short novel (only 105 pages) it is a complex and gritty read at times. There are thoughts and emotions (especially angst)  that are complex and they are given detailed descriptions to ponder over. It is a read that shouldn’t be dismissed or breezed over for sure and one that should be re-read again.

Page 53-54

School was over, and I lived in the heat of hay and mosquito bites. My mother complained about a referendum, then brightened up when an actor became a candidate for the presidency of the United States, and when we decided to boycott the Moscow Games, since everything was a mess everywhere. She spread out the brochures on the kitchen table, and sung out the praises of horseback riding, sailing classes, mountain climbing, but I shook my head and categorically refused her idea, no matter how quality the campers were said to be. I told her, “The problem isn’t leaving here, it’s being with people and having to sleep, eat, wash, play and talk with them, all the time, rain or shine.” She said I was a hopeless case.

I remembered the summer of 1976, that summer of perfection, the Olympic Games on television, Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10s, the whole world watched in amazement, the contortions of that small body, her little ponytail held in place by a soft cloud of cloth, the arc of her back, she was like a feather, an angel. Soon we missed the little girl with the dark eyes on the beam in Newsweek.

Bitter Rose by Martine Delvaux/Translated by David Homel is a perfect example of a coming-of-age novel. It is well-written and complex. Not a quick read but one that engages the mind with thoughts and reflections.

Link to Linda Leith’s webpage for Bitter Rose

Awakening or Coming of Age | Review of “Orphan Love” by Nadia Bozak. (2007) Key Porter Books

There seems to be a swarm of coming-of-age novels coming to my attention lately dealing with the 1980s. The struggles of the social norms of that era were immense but not unique. And any novel that documents teenagers trying to grow up during that time should reflect not only a reader’s issues with that era but enlighten a reader to the issues of a person belonging to another group. That is what Nadia Bozak did for me in her novel Orphan Love.

Page 7

Across the highway from the lake there’s a trailer hidden in the bush, far enough back you can’t see it from the road. The man inside thinks this helps keep him and his kid and his wife, before she left him, safe from law and men and Indians, blood brothers and half sisters and anyone else who wants to tear his skin or break his nose, his neck, his hardened heart.

But one morning in spring this stranger comes walking down that bit of lost and empty highway and spots the trailer through the dawn-lit trees. So doing, the stranger crosses the road and disappears into the forest. And with careful, soundless bootsteps creeps up on that hidden trailer, stealing quick peeks in each of its four windows, and then, gun cocked, breaks through its plywood door. Inside there is a little old baby, maybe the last one of its kind. Diaper rotting, skin crawling, and all alone except for its dad, passed out in pissy pants and muddy boots, jacket open and without a shirt on. So the baby and its dad are together soiled and shit-smelling and, though, it’s cold, almost naked. Maybe if that stranger hadn’t come, they would have died out there, the dad and the baby. The dad drinking himself to death, and the baby, meanwhile, dying of thirst. It doesn’t have to be like that. And it isn’t like that anymore, not after the gun-slinging stranger comes busting in on them that morning in spring.

Sadly I had to miss out to hear Bozak at a speaking engagement recently but I was glad I picked up this book. The story deals with a teenager fleeing a beaten-up life in a rugged outpost in northern Ontario, Canada. Along the way she meets up with Dave who is also on the run from an unsettled past. Through the wilds of the north and into the man-made terrain of New York City, they learn about their pain and about themselves.

Page 52

Dave didn’t sleep much. Still dark, and he was up and creeping around. Sleeping with my eyes not quite shut, in the glow of  clear I saw his shadow and I saw that all Dave needed to complete the look of ambush was a knife between his teeth. He stopped when his left boot stopped on a piece of my hair coiled up in the dirt and he stayed very still looking down at me. His boot so close to my poor old head that I could smell the sweat coming from his socks. He was thinking about taking off and leaving me there.  And me thinking how it would be ten times worse with him gone. Through the blur of lashes, I watched Dave turn away and go back to the canoe where he slept for maybe as little as four hours. Could see him in the light of the three-quarter moon that had come out of the cloud cover. Dave carried his pack and the suitcase out of the bushes and then out came his bashed-up boat. Trees rustled like he was the wind. He found his flashlight and ran its yellow cast along the belly of the canoe. With his fingers he smoothed out the bandages and patchwork scattered along  the body, pressed down on the seams and seeing that maybe his rough-hewn craft was holding, he thumped the bow and then switched out the light. Then Dave did this: he lit a match and held it to the body of the boat, just long enough to leave a burn mark. He lit another match and held it to the peeling bark of a paper birch. It didn’t take long for the tree to catch fire. Leaned back with his hands in his pockets and the hood of his Rotting Christ sweatshirt pulled up over his head, watching the spreading flames.

There is a frank and unapologetic language in this book which makes it a great read. Bozak didn’t confine herself to the rules of grammar or politeness when writing this novel which makes it a brilliant read. It took a bit of time to get through this book – it is at times a difficult story to digest – but it is well crafted.

Page 102-103

The forest was already hung with shadows, the still air was decaying like old, wet shit. Walked some minutes, then stopped, unzipped my fly, and pulled down my jeans. Saw black bruises on white thighs, inner and outer, front and back. All the way down, saw scratches and rashes and bug bites, and I thought how ugly I was and how unlike a girl. Then I saw that besides the dirt of the bush, the sweat of the ride, there was blood all over my underwear. Now I’d have to tell Dave I was bear bait. Grabbed up a handful of leaves and just started wiping away at the blood between the legs, thinking here I am with legs worse than any boy’s and I  start the rag.  Fuck. Especially because I didn’t get a period all the time, not regular like other girls, and especially not out there with the body in shock from all the canoeing and fasting and not sleeping either. It was from being around a boy. And not just any boy, but Dave. A rocker and so often an asshole, and I’d left my poor heart out for him to lick and it felt darker and deeper than anything Slava O’Right had done to me. Didn’t know what was worse – getting soft on a runaway rocker Indian or having a starving spring bear sniff me down and devour me for my skinny meat. Frantic now, and those dirty leaves were getting in all the sticky blood and I was making a mess of myself when I was supposed to be getting clean.

 

Orphan Love by Nadia Bozak is frank and bold coming-of-age novel. While it is a difficult  read at times, getting through the book is a worthwhile experience.

Link to Nadia Bozak’s website

Link to House of Anansi page for Orphan Love

 

Janet E. Cameron’s debut novel Cinnamon Toast and The End of The World (Link to my review) is a brilliant coming-of-age novel set in the 1980s. The Nova-Scotia author now living in Ireland recently answered a few questions for me  – especially what is next in her writing career.
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1)  So how has the reaction been to Cinnamon Toast and The End of The World been so far? Has there been any particular memorable feedback to the novel so far?
A: I’m not sure overall what the general reaction has been. You send this stuff out into the world and get little bits of information here and there as to how it’s doing and the rest is guess work. There was a great review in the Globe and Mail about a month after it was released in Canada, and a starred review in Quill and Quire a few weeks later, both majorly yay-inducing moments for me. Also it’s been nominated for the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Evergreen award, which I think has gotten it a bit of attention. Occasionally I’ll have someone contact me on social media or by email to tell me they liked it, and then I’m skipping around the place with joy. I’ve even had a few people say it’s one of their favourite books, and when that happens, there’s really no feeling like it. (Not that all reader feedback has been positive of course, but then, people who hate your book rarely make a point of emailing to tell you this, thank God.)
2) I’m curious about your back story. How does a Canadian writer find herself in Dublin, Ireland?
A: It was because of the 2002 FIFA Soccer World Cup! I was teaching at a private school in Tokyo the year Japan and Korea hosted the world cup and the city was flooded with international fans. I happened to run into one, a cute curly-headed journalist, when I was out with a group of friends. Three years later I was married to him and living in Ireland.
3) Are working on any new writing right now? If yes, are there details you can share with your fans?
A; My fans? You mean my mom? Well, you can tell her that I’m working on a novel now, but it’s giving me a lot of trouble and I’m not sure if it’s ever going to be a book. It’s set in the same town as Cinnamon Toast and the main characters are a couple of minor figures from that book. It deals with the aftermath of a suicide, so anyone who thinks the first book was a bit miserable will probably not find this one a fun-fest either. If it ever gets out there.
4) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
A: You know, it’s funny. Every time I claim someone as a favourite, they release something I don’t like, and then I want to call up everyone I’ve told and say I’ve changed my mind. I think Edmund White can be wonderful, especially when his backdrop is the American mid-west. I loved Douglas Adams when I was a kid and can still quote chunks of the Hitchhiker books. Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness is a great book that was a big influence when I was starting to write prose, and recently my big favourite is Ruth Ozeki’s
A Tale for the Time Being. I try to keep an open mind and read everything. Right now I’m about halfway through Lisa Moore’s Caught and the writing is pretty much blowing my tiny mind.
5) When you write do you get inspiration from your own life or from the lives of others for your stories?
A: I just make stuff up, mostly. If my life is involved, it’s less interesting for me, or at least more difficult. I did have a suicide in my family back in 1989, which is one reason why the second book’s giving me so much trouble. That said, I enjoy using real places and sticking little details from the real world into what I’m writing. But you have to be careful with that in case someone gets the wrong idea. I gave Stephen’s father the nickname ‘Spider’ and had him living on the North Mountain in Nova Scotia, so a friend wondered if I was writing about Spider Robinson, the science-fiction author. I had to clarify that when, to my surprise, Spider himself ended up reading the book. (He liked it, which made me super, super happy.)
6) You seem to have a presence on some of the social media platforms like Twitter. Does being on those platforms help you with your writing?
A: I think they’re a time and energy drain, actually, but I’ll admit I’m addicted. It’s easier to post a blog article than to publish a book, and the reaction from readers is pretty much instantaneous, so it can be very rewarding in the short term – which makes it a dangerous distraction from the rest of my writing. Publishers encourage you to use these outlets, although no one can measure how much social media helps with sales and recognition and we might all be just guessing here.
7) Do you do a lot of travelling? Do you make it back to Canada much? (Now that WestJet is offering service between Ireland and Canada I would assume it would be a bit easier.)
A: That service won’t start until the fall, but it might make things easier. The problem is that there’s so much of Canada – my sister and mother are in Edmonton and my dad is in Nova Scotia. So once you’ve arrived, there’s still a lot of travelling to do, and it’s not exactly cheap. I’m on an extended visit to Nova Scotia now, but I don’t imagine I’ll be back soon once it’s over. I just can’t afford it.
8) Has Cinnamon Toast been involved in any book clubs at all? If yes, did you participate with their discussions at all?
A: Yes, it’s been interesting. I don’t know how many book clubs have covered it, but I was able to attend one meeting in person in the fall, which was pretty great. We had cinnamon rolls, of course. I’ve also Skyped book clubs in New Zealand, Vancouver and New Brunswick. Sometimes this goes well and sometimes it’s a bit awkward, depending on the connection. Once I couldn’t see more than one person at a time and just had the impression of getting yelled at by unseen voices with every fourth word cutting out. But for the group in Vancouver, there was a big screen and a great connection and it was like being there.
9) Have you done any public readings of Cinnamon Toast at all? If yes, what was that experience like for you?
A: I’ve read from it a number of times, usually as part of a double or triple/quadruple bill with other authors. I got to read twice at the Festival of Authors in Toronto last October, which was really quite amazing. I like reading for a group, but tend to get stuck on the same bits to read because I know they work and it’s difficult to take chances on something you’re not sure of when you’re nervous. But I’ve got another reading coming up in early June and I’ll just have to force myself out of the old comfort zone this time.
10) There are quite a few people trying their hand at writing fiction right now. Do you have any advice for them?
Edit. Edit your little heart out. Edit until you’re ready to go mad, then edit some more. It’s the only way you improve. And be patient with yourself. I know when you’re finished something, impulse to run out and share it becomes overwhelming – writing is about communication after all – but I always regret sharing anything without a cooling off period first. You will probably find you want to change something or even give it another few drafts before it’s ready to get out there and meet people.
*****

Stuff that Happened in our Youth | Review of “Keon and Me” by Dave Bidini (2013) Viking

ImageWhile I received a copy of this book via a competition on Goodreads.com, I bought a copy afterwards to loan to friends. It is that copy I used to refer to while writing this piece.

“Hawwwww!” I finally found the perfect book that describes what it means to be a Canadian kid growing up in the modern world. We all tend to look back at our youth and try to figure out the elements of what made us who were are today. The heroes and enemies of those days formulated our personality, and pondering back is a natural thing. Finally a writer has crafted a wonderful book which speaks to me about what it was like being a sensitive youth in Canada. So allow me a few minutes to gush about Dave Bidini’s Keon And Me.

One of the reasons I wanted to meet Dave Keon was to find out if the qualities I’d projected upon him were true, or whether it had all been a water-colour memory of childhood where good triumphed over bad and Batman bested The Joker and swords possessing magical properties defeated dragons that ate kids and their families. In this regard, I’d resisted feeling cynical for as long as I could. Aging didn’t help because aging fed cynicism and bitterness like coal to a hearth, and even though my life was good and I’d been lucky enough to do what I loved to do -“Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be doing what I’m doing.” I’d tell people after complaining about something or someone, which I did often – there were times when I went looking for the smoke of dissatisfaction, purposefully darkening my view.

 

Bidini’s book deals basically with two people from his childhood; his hero Toronto Maple Leafs forward Dave Keon and his tormentor – a childhood bully by the name of Roscoe. Hockey plays an role in most of our Canadian existence. For me, the game was filled with brutish behaviour which had no interested for me. But I needed to keep up with the NHL if I wanted to interact with peers and later, co-workers. While doing that I learned that the game was once a true sport, filled with tactics and strategy, that –  if I had better appreciated in my youth – I would be a bit more physically active now. Bidini has document the life of his childhood hero in this book as been the last true sportsman that played the game.

In 1967 – the year the Leafs last won the Cup – Dave Keon recorded but a single two-minute penalty. Stan Mikita, who played for the Blackhawks and was often shadowed by the Leaf centre, told the papers that he maintained a list of players with whom he wanted to get even, but that “I wouldn’t think of starting with Keon. How could I? He keeps his nose clean and he’s simply too nice for me.” Coach and broadcaster Harry Neale also said, “No matter how violent the game got, goons for some reason, stayed away from Dave Keon.” The boy thought it was impossible to respect and admire the player any more than he already did – the boy didn’t use the word “love” to describe his affection: that would have been weird and gross and just wrong – but the fact that he was the league’s nicest player was almost too much. In general, the boy was drawn to things that were nice as opposed to bad, things that were gallant as opposed to cowardly, things that worked in the name of good rather than in the name of evil. The greatest things were nice – his mom, his teacher, his favourite team, his room, his street, and God and Love and Heaven – while the worst thing were bad – Roscoe, the Flyers, lying, cheating, stealing, fighting and Hell.

 

Bidini talks in the book about the hurt the bully Roscoe caused him. But his idolization of Keon and his behaviour caused him not to retaliate against him but to quietly go home and listen to the radio. Then Bidini shares what is possibly the moment in which made him into the fantastic musician is became today.

The song stared with a few guitar chords played with a wobbly sound, a sound the boy would later find out was called a “tremolo,” a word that made him think of a kind of delicious ice cream not yet invented. The words went “Goodbye to you my trusted friend/ We’ve know each other since we were nine or ten.” They boy had listened to other kids’ music where the subjects of the song were also kids, but none of the had words like “Goodbye my friend/ It’s hard to die,” which the “Seasons in the Sun” singer sang just as the drums kicked in. The song made the boy sad because the singer sounded sad. His voice was also a little like his  – young and mewling, weak-sounding – and because the song had a family, and because he was being taken away from them – the reason was probably death, although he couldn’t be sure – the boy became vacuumed into the words, even though he resisted, something he always tried to do whenever CFTR played the song.

 

But it is Bidini words about growing up that makes this the perfect Canadian coming-of-age book. His words are simple yet lyrical and the metaphors he using brings up so many memories that only a Canadian could understand.

The boy saw Salming look up the ice. The player’s eyes widened as he heard a sound – “Hawwww!!!” – coming from in front of the Leafs’ bench. It was Keon speeding down the ice, yelling for the pass. Later in his life, the boy would become a man who would ask himself whether he’d every heard a more Canadian sound in a more Canadian place. (Maple Leaf Gardens). “Hawwwww!!” An Irish accent passed over a northern tongue. “Hawwwww!” One boy in a sweater shouting to another boy in a sweater across the howling wind. “Hawwwww!” Neil Young in his fringe jacket calling the end of a long solo. “Hawwwww!’ What Relic said after finding a bounty of salvage that Nick was too Greek to find. “Hawwwww!”

 

Keon and Me by Dave Bidini move me in ways that are beyond words. While I may not be the biggest hockey fan, Bidini exploration that he shared by writing this book is brilliant and worthwhile reading. No doubt I will be reading this book over and over again as I get older and continue to be reflective about my life. Hawwwww!

Link to Dave Bidini’s website

Link to Penguin Canada’s page for “Keon and Me”