Tag Archives: McClelland & Stewart

Losing that One Person in Our Lives | Review of “So Much Love” by Rebecca Rosenblum (2017) McClelland & Stewart

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There is that one person in our daily lives that is important to us. It could be somebody very close to us or just somebody that we see on a day-to-day basis yet never give a second thought too. But remove that one person from our lives and our something in our psyche is vaulted into a state of shock. That is the theme Rebecca Rosenblum brilliantly explores in her novel So Much Love.

Page 3

Just before the winter semester wrapped up at the end of March, one of my Canadian Poetry students disappeared – not just from my class but also maybe from the earth. Catherine Reindeer left the restaurant where she worked at the end of a day shift, but she didn’t come home that night, or any night since. They found her purse in the parking lot the next morning. She was a good student, good enough that she didn’t need me to review her essay topics or suggest background readings. But she was chatty and didn’t seem to have friends in the class, so sometimes I was the recipient of her thoughts on Gwendolyn MacEwan, Michael Ondaatje, Julianna Ohlin. She spent a lot of time reading the biographical notes at the backs of books, always interested in discussing whose marriage had been happy, who worked a day job in addition to writing. She was – is? – a pretty girl, confident, a bit older that the rest. She had a husband, the newspapers said, unusual for an undergrad. I don’t remember a ring. I liked talking to her, but I didn’t know her well. Now that’s she’s gone, I think of her constantly.

Rosenblum has given readers an important element of the human condition to consider over in this book. The main focus of the plot deals with the disappearance of Catherine Reindeer. Readers witness the internal thoughts and struggles of many people that Catherine touched in their lives –  from people who were close to her to people who merely worked with her – and we get true look at how interconnected humans are and fragile the human psyche can be.

Pages 118-119

Heading home at the end of the day, I get that familiar homesickness just before I arrive. After a tough day – and now that I’m in my forties, I’m starting to feel like they’re mainly tough days – I still want to just spill it all out to Gretta and see if she can tell it back to me like a bedtime story. This desire has been growing all summer and fall, maybe since the beginning of spring when Catherine Reindeer first vanished, or since we each realized the other was devastated by the loss of this stranger. Or near-stranger. Maybe that was just one agony too many; we are kinder to each other now than we’ve been in years. We still don’t talk much, but her face when she’s genuinely listening to me is a comfort I could fall into. I don’t need advice, or any kind of commentary – after fifteen years, I know what she would say almost as well as what I would. This far into paying off the martial mortgage of intimacy, niceties like “How are you?” have become irrelevant – I know how she’s doing by the way she swallows her first mouthful of coffee in the morning, the rhythm of her stride on the stairs. In the evenings, we sit on opposite side of the living room, the rasp of pages from our respective books the faintest of communications. It is a kind of love, and a kind of loss too. I remember when we would have at least told each other what the books were about.

Rosenblum does a great job with this book of breaking down complex thoughts and emotions of the human psyche and gives those of us who want a careful and conscience read something to ponder over. The different sections of the book have single plot lines, yet the descriptions are vivid and memorable. Definitely a book that should not be rushed through while reading.

Page 181-182

The search went on for three freezing hours before they were given one last round of tea and Timbits and told to go home. No one found anything useful, or not that Kyla heard about. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on with everyone spread out in the trees and dark like that.

In Dermott’s truck on the way home, he hummed a few bars of “Amazing Grace,” but when she didn’t join in, he quit and tapped her knee with his big hand.

“It’ll be okay, Ky. Our heavenly Father is watching.”

She pictured God lying on his couch, watching all their suffering on a flat-screen TV, and didn’t understand why that was suppose to make her feel better.

After the night of the search party, Kyla cam home right after school the rest of the week. It didn’t feel safe to be out alone. Everyone was tense, darting eyes and locked car doors all over Iria. Even if she walked to Starbucks at lunch with Britt, they moved quickly, didn’t linger out front with the other kids, and checked over their shoulders.

So Kyla stayed home, read Ivan Ilych over again, and took notes while Jaycee practised her awful piano downstairs. The picture on the front of the skinny book was of an old man, some artist’s idea of how Ivan looked. Ivan, at the end of his life, seemed sad and exhausted, but that wasn’t the interesting part of the book or the character to Kyla. She thought about poor Ivan as basically a decent person who worked hard but didn’t really know what was important in life or how to find out. The scary part was that he could live his whole life and not even be interested in love or being loved, and die that way.

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum will certainly be one of the most profound and in-depth reads I experienced so far in 2017. She has captured an element of the human condition and documented well here, certainly making me reflect and discuss this book on numerous occasions. Truly a gifted piece of literature.

*****

Link to Penguin/Random House Canada’s website for So Much Love

Link to Rebecca Rosenblum’s website

Link to my Q&A with Rebecca Rosenblum – “(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?”

 

“(W)e have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?” | Q&A with author Rebecca Rosenblum on her new novel So Much Love

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Image linked from the author’s website

It is always a thrill for me to talk about a writer who has honed their craft through a collection of short stories who finally releases a complete novel. And Rebecca Rosenblum is such a writer. She brilliantly documented elements of human condition in her short story collections such as The Big Dream (Link to my review) and Once (Review coming shortly). Now her first complete novel So Much Love is out and should be a stunning read as well. Rosenblum took some time out from a busy book tour to answer a few questions for me.

*****

First off, could you give a bit of an overview of So Much Love?

The main story in So Much Love is about a young woman named Catherine Reindeer who goes missing and, first, what those who knew her go through in her absence also what happens to Catherine herself. But there’s also a thread woven through about a poet Catherine admires, Julianna Ohlin, dead many years, and what her life amounted to, or how Catherine imagines her. That’s a lot of different stories, because the people who miss Catherine each get their own voices and experiences and so does Julianna and the people in her world. That is how I like to experience the world—lots of different viewpoints, as a way to piecing together my own. In the end, with careful editing, I think Catherine’s powerful conclusion.

2) Was there anything specific that inspired you to write this book? Is there anything you are hoping to accomplish with So Much Love?

I was interested in the way that, first, female artists are often conflated with their biographies. This happens to men too, of course, but it seems much stronger with women. Even in an academic context, a woman’s art is indivisible from her life, her suffering, her love affairs in a way that I don’t think would be conceive able for a man. I was also interested in the way that there’s a kind of style or genre of fiction where a crime forms that backdrop, and much more mundane dramas form the main action. In truth, that is the way many of us live our lives, and thank goodness—we have the privilege of listening to the worst crimes on the news for twenty minutes, then shutting it off and thinking about getting new shoes or what to make for dinner for the next hour. But shouldn’t fiction go deeper, explore the hard parts?

3) According to your website, your previous books have been collections of short stories. Was it a major difference to now write a complete narrative for one book? How long did it take to write So Much Love?

Yes, I found it very challenging, and I had a lot of help. I took earlier runs at writing this novel—one starting in 2000 and one in 2004, but I just didn’t yet have the writing chops to make it through this complicated and challenging story. Then after graduate school in creative writing and two collections, working with an excellent editor (the rightly revered John Metcalf), I started again in 2011 and was able to get all the way through, after a fashion, though at that point the book was linked short stories. When McClelland & Stewart bought the book, my editor Anita Chong asked me if I was willing to edit it into a novel and I said yes—that was what I had wanted all along, I just couldn’t make it work. It took more than two years and I lot of blood, sweat and tears from both of us—along with over 30 000 added words—but we did it!

4) Are you planning any public readings of So Much Love? If yes, are there any dates/events you are excited to be participating in?

I’m actually typing this in Vancouver, and will be reading tonight at the Vancouver Public Library as part of the Incite series presented by the Vancouver Writers Festival. But by the time this gets posted I’ll probably be looking forward to my reading at Pivot at the Steady April 19 (Link here), which is going to be super fun, and then on April 22 I’ll be reading at the Making Room launch party in Toronto for an anthology that celebrates 40 years of Room magazine (Facebook link here)

5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you can share?

When I finally signed off on the last version of So Much Love, I did get started on a new project that I’ve been thinking about for a while—a father-daughter novel that takes place over many years. I enjoyed working on it, as the book is more light-hearted than So Much Love but still with some darker themes, but I had to put it aside first for some personal problems and then for the promotional work on So Much Love. I’m really looking forward to getting back to it when the excitement dies down, though.

6) You seem to have an active profile on Facebook. Many of my followers always want to know what is the best way to keep up to date with their favourite writers (New works, events, etc.) . Are you using Facebook for that regard? Do you have any plans to expand your social-media presence to something like Twitter or Google Plus?

I think the best way to find out about new work, events, and publications from me would probably be my twitter account, (Link to her Twitter account here) or my website/blog, www.rebeccarosenblum.com My Facebook and Instagram accounts both have a lot of personal stuff mixed in—unless you care a lot about cats, things I ate, and pictures of my husband, those would be less of interest. I never made the leap to Google Plus and now I hear it is shutting down so I guess I never will.

7) Your biography has you listed as living in Toronto. How do you like living there? Are there any specific cultural institutions or events there that inspire you as a writer?

It took me while but now I love Toronto so much I can’t imagine ever leaving. A lot of that has to do with people, though—my friends, my family, some of my in-laws, and a lot of the literary community that I know are there. But there is also so much good stuff—from the Jays to Allan Gardens to the ROM to Bluffs—that I adore in Toronto. I love just walking down the street and looking at stores, and I know so many people I pretty often run into someone I know. I have lived there 15 years and despite the challenges, I feel truly at home there. I did my masters in creative writing at University of Toronto and that is just a gorgeous campus. I loved getting my degree there but I know others have legit complaints; however, no one could dispute the loveliness of the St. George campus. I’m still happy to hang out at Hart House or one of the libraries if I have a writing day and feel like getting out of the house.

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Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s website for So Much Love

Understanding Ourselves a bit better | Review of “All That Man Is” by David Szalay (2016) McClelland & Stewart

Man

The beauty of a good piece of literature is that – if it is read and reflected upon carefully  – it can cause us to ponder and reflect on our own actions and existence. Through the consideration of a protagonist in a story we open ourselves up to consider our own lifestyle and maybe even improve ourselves just a bit. And such considerations can clearly happen to someone when they have carefully pondered the book All That Man Is by David Szalay.

Page 8

He has no idea, throwing the name out like some mundane object that his friend frequently dreams about Karen Fielding – dreams in which they might speak, or exchange looks, or in which their hands might momentarily touch, and from which he wakes, still seeming to feel the touch of her hand, to a single moment of overwhelming joy. He transcribes these dreams to his diary, very earnestly, along with pages and pages on what they might mean, and on the nature of the dreaming process itself.

In the waking world, he and Karen Fielding have hardly spoken to each other, and she is unaware of how he feels – unless she has noticed the way his eyes follow her as she moves with her tray around the dining hall, or tramps back from lacrosse in her muddy kit. Practically the only thing he knows about her is that her family live in Didcot – he overheard her telling someone else – and from that moment the word ‘Didcot’ started to live in his mind with a special, mysterious promise. Like her name, it seems almost too potent to put down in writing in a youth hostel in Warsaw, one evening, while Ferdinand was showering, he wrote, and it made his heart quicken: It seems pointless to travel Europe when the only where I want to be is humble, suburban English

His pen hovered.

Then he did it, he wrote the word.

Didcot.

Her name, more potent still, he has never summoned the nerve to form.

The books deals with nine different stories, nine different men at different stages of their lives and with nine different social standings. Szalay has each of the men set in various locations in Europe. Each story is ripe with vivid introspection that breeds a type of sense of empathy with the character and a certain level of understanding of the psyche of men – be they good or bad people – if the book is savored while read.

Page 81-82

They swim together, later. The ladies, still in their billowing dresses, letting the water lift them, and Bérnard moving more vigorously, doing little displays of front crawl, and then lolling on his back in the water, letting the sun dazzle his chlorine-stung eyes. Sandra encourages him to do a handstand in the shallow end. Not totally sober, he obliges her. He surfaces to ask how it was, and she shouts at him to keep his legs straight next time, while Charmian, still bobbing about nearby, staying where she can find the cool blue tiles with her toes looks on. He does another handstand, unsteady in his long wet trunks. The ladies applaud. Triumphant, he dives again, into watery silence, blue world, losing all vertical aplomb as his big hand strive for the tiles. His legs thrash to drive him down. His lungs keep lifting his splayed hands from the tiles. His face feels full of blood. Streams of bubbles pass over him, upwards from his nostrils. And then he is in air again, squatting shoulder deep in the tepid water, the water sharp and bright with chemicals streaming from orange slicks of hair that hang over his eyes. He feels queasy for a moment. All those Keo lagers . . . He fears, just for a moment, that he is going to throw up.

Then he notices a lifeguard looming over them, his shadow on the water. He is talking to Sandra. He has just finished up saying something and he moves away, and takes his seat again, up a sloping ladder, like a tennis umpire.

‘We’ve been told off,’ Sandra says, hanging languidly in the water only her sunburnt head, with its mannish jawline and feathery blonde pudding-bowl, above the surface.

Bérnard isn’t sure what’s going on. He still feels light-headed, vaguely unwell. ‘What?’

‘We’ve been told off,’ Sandra says again.

Bérnard, from his crouch in the water, which feels chilly now that he has stopped moving, just stares at her. His body is bony. Individual vertebrae show on his white back. Sandra is still saying something to him. Her voice sounds muffled. ‘… told to stop being so immature …’ he hears it say.

She has started to swim away from him – her head moving away on a very slow, lazy breaststroke.

The surface of the pool, which had been all discomposed by his antics, is smoothing itself out again, is slapping the sides with diminishing vigour.

There is also wit in this book. Not so much a outside laugh wit but more of a quiet realization ‘I-have-done-that’ or ‘have-almost-done-that’ humour followed by a moment of pondering. Again more self-reflection of one’s own soul or a contemplation of someone we know, which is that hallmark of a good piece of literature.

Page 389

He thinks about death quite a lot now. It is hard not to think about it. Obviously, he doesn’t have that much time left. Ten years? In ten years he will be eighty-three. More than that? Well, probably not. So about ten years. Seen in one way, that is frightening little. It is terrible, how little it seems, sometimes. Waking at five a.m. on a December morning, for instance, in the large damp bedroom of the house near Argenta, the turquoise walls still hidden in darkness. The quiet ticking of the clock on the table next to the bed. It is terrible how little it seems. And since the operation two months ago he has understood that even ten years might be optimistic. He has had, since the operation, this strange permanent awareness of his heart and what it is doing, and this fear that it will suddenly stop doing it. He lies there, unpleasantly aware of its working, and of the fact that one day it will stop. He feels no more prepared to face death, though, than he ever has.

It is starting to get light in the large turquoise bedroom.

He has been lying there, awake for two hours, thinking.

All That Man Is by David Szalay is a deep and thought-provoking piece of literature that enlightens readers about the male psyche. It should be savoured and pondered by any reader who seeks enlightenment either about themselves or their friends.

*****

Link to a biography of David Szalay on the United Agents literary agents website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s webpage for All That Man Is

 

 

“(The book) involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to . . .” | Q&A with poet Laurie D. Graham

SetEd

History tends to be a biased cut-and-dry listing of facts. So it takes new interpretations to vault new perspectives upon us and open our minds to events that may direct still involve us today. Poet Laurie D. Graham has done that with Settler Education. Her reflections on the Frog Lake “massacre” and the Northwest Resistance has given some pause to reflect what our history texts stated. Graham recently answered a few questions on her latest work.

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First, off, can you give a bit of an outline of Settler Education.

Settler Education travels west to the site of what’s called the Frog Lake “massacre” and, more generally, the Northwest Resistance. It stays in those places, in what’s now east-central Alberta and central Saskatchewan, immersing itself in what happened there 130 years ago and what remains of those events now. It then moves into the cities—to Edmonton, to Regina, to Toronto—keeping itself trained on the Resistance in these present-day places. Settler Education tries to say something about the violence and injustice that brought about the Resistance and the deaths at Frog Lake, and to see better the ways it continues today.

Did you do much research for the book, was it a product of ‘pure imagination, or a combination of the two?’ How long did it take you to write it?

I did a large amount of research for Settler Education. As the title implies, it involves a process of coming into knowledge of the places I come from and the places the book travels to, so I read an awful lot, I dug into archives, I went to look at sites, I got to know places, I listened to stories.

My first ideas about the book came before I finished writing my first book, Rove, the first poems were written around 2009, things started clicking into place around 2012, and (McClelland and Stewart) accepted it at the start of 2015.

You already have a list of dates where you will be reading Settler Education. Are there any events/venues that you are excited to be reading your work? Will you be adding new dates as well?

I’ve got two readings scheduled in London and one in Edmonton, and I just recently did a couple of readings in Toronto, one of which was M&S’s poetry launch, a very well-attended event. It was a great night. And I’m looking forward to all my readings: Edmonton because it’s my home and I get to read with Myrna Kostash, and my London launch at the Oxford Book Shop because I’ve wrangled Tom Cull and Jean McKay to read with me, and I admire their work quite a lot.

In a Q&A you answered for me about a year ago, I asked you if your jobs as an educator and an editor helped you with your writing. You wrote:

Being on all sides of the task of bringing a piece of writing to fruition has taught me a lot, but it’s hard to tell if teaching and editing influence my writing in any overt way. I know it has improved my eye. I’m more rigorous, more ruthless, more self-aware.

On the other hand, editing and teaching can keep me from writing, which ends up doing the opposite of helping… I teach out of necessity and I help put together Brick out of love, but I have to make sure these things keep to their “compartments” or else there’ll be no writing, and it’s writing that gave me these two gigs in the first place.

Now, one year later and another book published, do you still feel that way?

Yeah, definitely. I’m still trying to make enough time for all three of these gigs and to keep them all to their corners, and I’m still learning a lot from the teaching and the editing. Lately the pattern of my years goes that I work like mad through the fall and a bit less through the winter so I can have the summers more to myself and to writing. It’s been a good pattern, overall. Not perfect, of course, but utterly workable.

 One of the most talked-about questions I always ask on my blog is asking a published writer’s views on social media. Are you still keen on using Facebook and Twitter?

I use them a fair bit, and they are really good for following issues you’re interested in and keeping abreast of or letting people know about readings or events or good things to look at or read. But I remain more of a listener than a contributor on those platforms (as in life, mostly), and there’s a point when I have to turn these things off and get to work already.

 Have there been any new writers or any new books that you have read in the past year that have earned your praise?

I just read Tim Lilburn’s new book, The Names, and it is wonderful. He has a new voice in these poems, or at least it feels new to me. Liz Howard’s Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell have both been nominated to the Griffin Prize this year, and I think both books are highly deserving of this recognition. I recently read a book called Stolen Life, written by Yvonne Johnson, a descendant of the Plains Cree chief mistahimaskwa / Big Bear (along with Rudy Wiebe). This book was new to me, and it’s wonderful and wrenching. I’m reading Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope right now, and, as someone who enjoys putzing around in the garden, I am having a great time with that one.

 Are you working on or planning any new works right now? If yes, are there details you can share?

I’ve got some new poems in the hopper, but I don’t know much about them yet. They’re multiple in their intentions and even in their voices. I don’t know how things will turn out, but right now they are about clearcutting, about suburban sprawl, about animals, about sitting beside water, about sitting beside a fire. Pretty vague, I know, but that’s how it begins for me: turn off the editor in my head and just proceed towards that unnameable thing.

*****

Link to Laurie D. Graham’s website

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s page for Settler Education

Link to my review of Settler Education

 

Using Poetry to go beyond the History Books | Review of “Settler Education” by Laurie D. Graham (2016) McClelland & Stewart

It was a rush that was typical of our modern life the day I went to pick up this book. I walked through a maze of hallways at a college campus filled with bodies trying find their own ways around me. I walked into a office, talked to a receptionist who picked up a phone and announced me. And with a rush of quick smiles and handshakes I was back out with this slim volume in my hand trying to make my way through another confused mass of bodies. I found a cafeteria and grab a lukewarm cup of coffee and sat down. There is still a confused chunk of humanity around me as I open to the first page.

And within reading the first well-crafted words, I was absorbed into Laurie D. Graham’s Settler Education.

Number One Canadian (Excerpt) Page 1

Stutter-stepping. The last fumes out

of Ontario. Beds and sliding doors and dining cars tunnelling

through the forest, its genealogy

of clear-cut, its firework trees new and hot.

We show them our ghost stations. We show them

tea at the window as birch die tangled

in power lines, birch hauling lines

down to the level of marsh, and marsh rising

to meet electricity.

Page 2

This is the line.

A propane tank every fifty clicks,

wall-eyed shoots and utility corridors,

gift-buying hours in the recreation car and hints

of lake and woodsmoke if you’re looking for them.

No Oh My Nation, No God Save Our Queen,

no colonial  imperative except in our being here, in what it means

to shower on a moving train, track rolling under the drainhole,

the luxurious pillows, my last minute discount.

This is what they starved a people for.

Page 3

Through tree scenes, tableaux in the dome car,

the soldiers, the settlers, the track laid, the way made.

Making goods of them. Servants, subjects, comrades, always

more, and the trees smoulder, the trace smoke in the camera’s vision

that comes of passing too fleetly. We pause at vistas and wildlife,

coniferous worming at the periphery.

A train car neat with men and their rifles.

Outside, thread of campsmoke obscured by clouds, by trees.

Notes Page 107

“NUMBER ONE CANADIAN” is the name of the train that runs from Toronto to Vancouver. When the train returns east, they call it the Number Two.

Graham has woven a complex tapestry here where many historians and other academics have failed for us. The book tells the story of the Plains Cree uprising at Frog Lake and the settlement of the Prairies. Graham’s poetry here weaves through time, places, impressions, journal entries, letters and so forth to brilliantly give the mind’s eye of any reader a clear impression of the places and the events.

Among the Buffalo Page 17

we were told that in a day or two we would reach the buffalo country

might expect to see considerable herds

day after day no signs

we became skeptical

Saint, hell. Riel’s a criminal.

He brought law out here, one good thing to

                                       come out of

                         his treason

I found several of the party quietly reading

to one of them I asked  have you seen the buffalo

he started as if he received a shock from a battery

You’re gonna get the redneck view from this

                                  end of the table

each bend of the river brought us in view of new herds

on both sides        not in dense masses

as when migrating    but scattered bands from ten to one hundred

sometimes close to the bank

they went at a lumbering gallop as the steamer approached

Next you’ll say I got no right to be here,

            been farming this same plot for a full century.

the appearance of the steward with a rifle on his arm

and all was excitement

Graham has gone beyond using just words here. She using layout and typeface to set different moods here that vault the reader from one emotion to another. This is a complex read yet one that is worth savoring.

Frog Lake (Excerpt) Page 21

Ditchweed, fuchsia. The first thing grows after fire.

Chased here by weather, rain then clearing sky,

Wandering Spirit, Iron Body, Miserable Man,

Round the Sky, Little Bear, Bad Arrow.

A grave, once unmarked, months from here.

Brome grass in all the places the earth’s been turned.

Settler Education by Laurie D. Graham may be a collection of poetry but it goes where history books have failed us. Graham gives detailed descriptions of emotions, thoughts and actions which causes readers to actually feel and care about the scenes. A great piece of literature.

Link to Laurie D. Graham’s blog

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s webpage for Settler Education

Getting to Know Yourself through the Thoughts of Others | Review of “Daddy Lenin and Other Stories” by Guy Vanderhaeghe (2015) McClelland & Stewart

Lenin

The beauty of a good piece of literature is the ability to empathize with the plight of the characters. A good writer can make a reader relate to the people he is talking about in a few simple words. Guy Vanderhaeghe is one such writer with that skill and he brings that skill forward repeatedly in his latest collection called Daddy Lenin And Other Stories.

Tick Tock Page 14

Charley Brewster’s hands hadn’t given him a moment’s grief for nearly forty years, had behaved themselves, and then, after the young couple moved into the apartment next door, they began to torment him relentlessly.

Not to say that Vanderhaeghe’s writing is not without some lyrical quality here. The stories flow, the characters ebb with the flow of the story and the reader’s mind rides along with each story to absorbing each element into their own mind. This is a great read for a quiet moment to ponder and reflect on.

Koenig & Company Pages 56-57

The prospect of another dining experience at the Koenigs’ kept me on edge all the next afternoon. Around four o’clock I heard a knock at the door. This was surprising, my family never had visitors. I parted the curtains, looked out, and saw Sabrina Koenig on the step, visible to anyone who might be passing by, a brown paper bag clutched to her chest. I rushed to the door, wrenched it open, and barked, “What!” straight into her face.

She didn’t flinch; she grinned. “Hello, Billy Dowd, today’s your lucky day,” she said.

“Get in here.” The instant she crossed the threshold, I slammed the door, panicked somebody might see me and her together.

“Where’s the kitchen?”

I pointed. i didn’t know what else to do. She set off in her halting, wincing stride. after a few moments of bewildered indecision, I followed, found her unpacking canned goods, fresh vegetables, and a package of meat.

I asked her what she thought she was doing.

“Making a trial run.”

“Trial run of what?”

Sabrina toyed with the groceries, shifting them about on the countertop as if she were trying to arrange them in a pattern that matched the logic of her thoughts. “I thought I’d cook for you tonight. You like your supper, then we can work out a deal. Maybe.”

“What kind of deal?”

Vanderhaeghe has brought forward interesting situations in the human condition that may initially seem odd but do occur in our lives. We do often wonder what has happened to the spurned lover or that overly-teased classmate as we get older. Here, Vanderhaeghe gives us a few scenarios where a protagonist finds out what has happened to Person X who may have had a certain greyish impact on the protagonist’s life.

Anything Page 178-179

Tony opened his eyes, ran his hands over the sheets and his eyes around the room. He called “Susan?” several times, but there was no answer. She was gone. He would have liked it if she had stayed; her presence, any presence, would have been welcome after the dream he had just awoken from. In it, he and his wife were waiting to board a flight in a vast airport reminiscent of Heathrow. When Betty told him she was going to take a quick look around the duty-free shop, he merely nodded. She disappeared into the crowd of travellers, and as she did, he glanced at his watch and was astonished to see that they had lost track of the time. It was only a few minutes before their gate would close. He stood up to call her back, but before a word left his mouth he suddenly found himself in the Qu’Appelle Valley on a fiercely windy day, whitecaps breaking on the beach.

Each time the waves slapped the sand, he grew more and more uneasy, sure that there was something he had forgotten to do, something besides keeping an eye on their departure time, something of the utmost importance. but for the life of him he couldn’t think what it was. He sensed it hovering behind him, back where Betty’s beloved cottage stood. But he couldn’t bring himself to turn and face it because if he did that, he would have to acknowledge the neglected presence.

Tony eased himself out of bed and wet to his laptop. Staring at the screen, he tried out and tested various phrases in his mind. Then he tapped out an email.

Daddy Lenin and Other Stories by Guy Vanderhaeghe is a brilliant piece of literature. Here, we are given a selection of elements important to the human condition which we otherwise wouldn’t consider. A brilliant and insightful read.

Link to Penguin Random House Canada’s page for Daddy Lenin and Other Stories

Getting Unstuck while on the Path of Life | Review of “No Relation” (2013) by Terry Fallis

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We all feel sometimes that we are trapped in our lives. ‘Who we are’, ‘what we do’ and ‘who we are with’ are phrases that seem to depress us into thinking that we are stuck in a rut of unhappiness. And it sometimes takes a good book or a good network of friends to help us see out of that rut of unhappiness. Terry Fallis has written a book about somebody who finds a good network of friends to help him out of a rut of unhappiness. And No Relation is a pleasurable book to read.

Page 9

I was in a surly mood by the time I made it into our apartment on Bank Street, almost at Bleecker, in the West Village. It wasn’t just losing my job. I’d remembered on the way home that I’d lost my wallet on the subway the day before. Funny how losing your job can make you forget about losing your wallet. It was well and truly gone. Stray wallets don’t last long on New York subways, and they never make it to the MTA’s Lost and Found.

When the elevator opened, Jenn and her brother, Paul, were standing there in the corridor with a cardboard box and a couple of suitcases.

“Oh hi, Paul,” I said. “Are you moving in for a while?”

Jenn had kind of a dazed look on her face.

“Shit,” she said.

“Believe it or not, you’re the second person to say that to me this morning.” I replied.

The story deals with a copywriter/aspiring novelist living in New York City.  Life seems to him to push him into a rut when he looses; his wallet, his job and his girlfriend all in the same day. He continually sits down in front of his computer screen to write his chapter 12 of his novel yet no words come forth. He feels alone and frustrated. Oh yes, he also suffers from the fact of being unfortunately named Earnest Hemmingway.

Page 18

“Look, mister. You expect me to believe that any sane parent would give their son that name. I ain’t buying what you’re selling. You got in ID. So back off and go and get your jollies somewhere else. We’re busy here. Try the passport office on Hudson. They’re loads of fun.” She pointed in a vaguely southerly direction as she said it. “Next in line, please!”

I’ve often heard of people snapping under the cumulative stress of a situation. All of a sudden a bolt pops loose and that nice gentle man who gives to charity and volunteers at the food bank somehow steps off the deep end and turns into a raving lunatic.  Well, it was different for me. You see, I volunteer at the Planned

Parenthood Clinic down on Bleecker, not at the food bank. But everything else was just about the same. You know, the deep end, raving lunatic part. So much for my civility instinct.

“Wait just a second,” I shouted, yes, shouted. “Wait one second! That is the name I was christened with forty years ago. I am not impersonating anyone. The spelling is not even the same. There’s an ‘a’ in my first name and a double ‘m’ in the second. See, it’s a completely different name. Okay, now try to focus. I’ve had a very, very bad day and I need a new driver’s licence. Your job is to make that happen. Please do it now!”

“Security to 10,” was all she said into her headset. She sounded tired.

Fallis has the ability to create complex plots while writing in a very simple style. And the story he tells with Hem is a great one to read. He gives a bit of morality play buried in between some extremely funny scenes which makes this book enlightening and fun to read.

Page 149

The next week was frustrating and dispiriting. It left me a little unnerved, even a little afraid. It honestly felt like I might now ever be able to write again. Not a good state for the wannabe writer blessed, for once, with time and money simultaneously. I found that I’d actually forgotten how it felt to craft sentences, to find the perfect word, the perfect tense, the perfect construction. The sensation of rearranging the words in a sentence to heighten its impact, its interest, had all but deserted me. No literary laxative could unblock my writing, and I tried many. The Internet was a bottomless well of never-fail cures that in my hands were never-cure fails. I could sense Hemingway’s ghost hovering, an oppressive, smirking, sneering presence. I waited for it to speak. But it never did.

No Relation by Terry Fallis is light read even though it has a complex plot.  Fallis documents several foibles of the human condition we all suffer from and shows us that we are at least not alone with our failings. A pleasurable read.

Link to Terry Fallis’ website 

Link to McClelland & Stewart/Penguin Random House Canada’s page for No Relation

Exploring the Mysteries of Detective Murdoch | Review of “Poor Tom is Cold” by Maureen Jennings (2001) McClelland & Stewart

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I’m late in the game of becoming a fan of the television series Murdoch Mysteries. I enthralled by some of the comments fans made of the show during the summer months and I began to watch some of the back episodes. The next thing I knew I was adding comments to the twitter feed under the hashtag #murdiesunite and I knew I was addicted. But I still felt I need some background to the show so I picked up Maureen Jennings book Poor Tom is Cold. Now I feel somewhat more sure of myself as the new season of the TV show begins.

Page 4-5

It was still dark out, not yet dawn, and the flickering street lamps made little dint in the sodden November darkness. Acting Detective William Murdoch pulled his astrakhan hat tighter over his ears, thrust his bare hands deep into his pockets, and shoulders hunched against the cold driving rain, plodded up Ontario Street toward the police station. Pain from an infected tooth had sent him from his bed, and in an attempt to distract himself, he had dressed and set out for work well ahead of his duty time.

He turned onto Wilton just as a cab was going by and stepped back to avoid being splashed. The cabbie slowed his horse in case Murdoch was a potential fare, realised he wasn’t, and tipped his whip in acknowledgement as he passed by. He was wrapped in a voluminous black oiled slicker, the high collar masking his lower face and the hood pulled down so low over his forehead that only his eyes were visible. the horse had no such protection and its coat was dark from the rain. Like a lot of cab horses, the beast looked underfed, as if it had barely a trot left in it, but the driver snapped the reins and they heaved into a faster clip. Murdoch watched the rear lamp swaying, warm and bright in the gloom, until the carriage turned south on Parliament, leaving him alone on the dark street.

Jennings has done something wonderful by taking the murder mystery and setting it in 1890s Toronto. She carefully describes the era in detail, not only the physical descriptions of settings but gets into the moods and thoughts of the people of the time.  Poor Tom is Cold was the third book featuring William Murdoch as he investigates the apparent suicide of a fellow officer. While the corner finds the evidence to be irrefutable, Murdoch follows the leads to find the situation is not what it seems to be.

Page 225

He was about to abandon the bookcase altogether when he saw that there was one book tucked away at the back of the shelf. He took it out, wondering if it had been hidden or had just fallen back there. The Heart of Midlothian by Sir Walter Scott. The cover matched the others in the set and this too was inscribed lovingly by Mrs Wicken. A twelfth birthday this time. He was about to replace it when he saw that there was a thin piece of muslin pressed among the pages. He took it out. Inside the cloth was a lock of dark brown hair. Murdoch stowed the find between the covers of his own notebook. There was nothing else he could see that might be relevant, and the overfurnished room was beginning to close in on him. He went back to the hall.

But this book is more than a simple murder mystery. Jennings has created a fully-developed character with William Murdoch who is not only smart and cunning but still filled with longings and feelings. Fans of the character easily feel empathy with Murdoch even though his concepts of morality may seem outlandish by today`s standards.

Page 87-88

However, over the past few months he had found himself actively seeking for a sweetheart. He had started dancing lessons, taken to it quite well really, even though his only dancing partner at first was the instructor himself, Professor Otranto, who took the lady`s part. Then in the summer he`d attended his first mixed class and met a young woman who worked at the music store on King Street. She had seemed most receptive toward him until she discovered he was Roman Catholic. She was Methodist.  “ My father would disown me. And I`m all he`s got now,“ she had said sadly. As a result, Murdoch had given up his dancing classes, reluctant to see her there and be tantalised by what he couldn’t have.

Poor Tom is Cold by Maureen Jennings is a brilliant novel on its own but I found it to be an excellent introduction to the world of Detective Murdoch. It is a must read for not only for any mystery fan but also would be a great read for fans of historical fiction. Murdies Unite!

Link to Maureen Jennings`website

Link to Penguin Random House`s page for The Complete Murdoch Mysteries Collection (which includes Poor Tom is Cold.)

Link to CBC television page for Murdoch Mysteries.

Dealing with the Hurt within us all | Review of “Medicine Walk” by Richard Wagamese (2014) McClelland & Stewart

There is that little bit of hurt and confusion in all of us. We are suppose to be this perfect being but somewhere along the line in our lives there is that moment of betray and anguish that seems to freezes us in our tracks. Richard Wagamese deals with those feelings in his well-crafted and simple novel  Medicine Walk and gives as all – no matter who we are – something to reflect on.

Page 4-5

He was big for his age, raw-boned and angular, and he had a serious look that seemed culled from sullenness, and he was quiet, so some called him moody, pensive, and deep. He was none of those. Instead, he’d grown comfortable with aloneness and he bore an economy with words that was blunt, direct, more a man’s talk than a kid’s. So that people found his silence odd and they avoided him, the obdurate Indian look of him unnerving even for a sixteen-year-old. The old man had taught him the value of work early and he was content to labour, finding his satisfaction in farm work and his joy in horses and the untrammelled open of the high country. He’d  was left school as he was legal. He had no mind for books and out here where he spent the bulk of his free time there was no need for elevated ideas or theories or talk and he was taciturn he was content in it, hearing symphonies in wind across a ridge and arias in the screech of hawks and eagles, the huff of grizzlies and the pierce of a wolf call against the unblinking eye of the moon. He was Indian. The old man said it was his way and he’d always taken that for truth. His life had become horseback in solitude, lean-tos cut from spruce, fires in the night, mountain air that tasted sweet and pure as spring water, and trails too dim to see that he learned to follow high to places only cougars, marmots, and eagles knew. The old man had taught him most of what he knew but he was old and too cramped up for saddles now and the kid had come to the land alone for the better part of four years. Days, weeks sometimes. Alone. He’d never know lonely. If he put his head to it all he couldn’t work a definition for the word. It sat in him undefined and unnecessary like algebra; land and moon and water summing up the only equation that lent scope to his world, and he rode  through it fleshed out and comfortable with the feel of the land around him like the refrain of an old hymn. It was what he knew. It was what he needed.

The story deals with teenage Franklin Starlight – or more often referred to as “The Kid.” Frank is raised on a farm by someone he knows as “The Old Man.” Frank has fleeting moments where is real father appears, but they are cruel, unkind and confusing memories. Then one day Frank is called to visit his father. He does so and finds him sick and dying after years of drinking. Frank and his father travel through the British Columbia interior and in the journey, Frank learns his father’s story.

Page 99-100

“Your mother?” Becka asked. “You never wanted to find out how she made out?”

His father gazed at the kid meekly. There was a depth to his eyes the kid had never seen, a woe, a bleak space all the light seemed to seep into and fade, and it embarrassed him and he looked away. His father picked up the mug of whisky and held it in both hands, spun it slowly in his palms then set it down on the floor again. He put his head back and stared at the ceiling. “Didn’t know how to try,” he said. “Never cottoned on to whether she wanted me gone or saved.”

“You’re sure she was makin’ a choice?” Becka asked.

“Felt like it right then,” he said. “Felt like I was no account and it pissed me off. Made walkin’ away easier, but the anger cooled after a time. Then it was just gullt an’ shame over leavin’ her alone with that bastard. Got to be so it ate at me bad. I dealt with it the only way I knew how.”

He looked at the kid. But the kid wouldn’t meet his eye, and he put a hand to his forehead and ran his palm across the top of his head. “Love an’ shame never mix,” he said. “one’s always gonna be runnin’ roughshod over the other. Lovin’  her. Feelin’ guilt an’ shame then gettin’ angry as hell at myself. I never cold figger what to do and then there was a whole pile of years go by an’ I give up on it.”

“You chicken-shitted me out of a grandmother,” the kid said quietly, staring at his feet.

“Wasn’t no chicken shit,” Eldon said quietly. “You think leavin’ was easy and then stayin’ gone?”

“What would you call it then?” The kid looked up at him and glared. “You run off with yer tail between yer legs like a whipped pup.”

His father picked up the whisky again and held it to his lips. He closed his eyes. He sighed and set the mug down on the floor again without drinking. “Hurt is all,” he said. “Big bad hurt.”

Wagamese has mixed together a great story here. Using language that is colourful and realistic to his characters and vivid descriptions of the surrounds, he has created a tasteful plot  that a reader’s mind will savour for more.

Page 142-143

His father smoked and crushed the butt against the trunk of a tree. He looked up at the kid, who watched him, and he tucked the dead butt into his pocket. He exhaled long and slow and raised his head to the sky. Shadows fell on his face and the branches pushed by the breeze made it appear to move, to shift, to alter, and the kid felt hollow watching life dance across his father’s face.

“Stories get told one word at a time,” he said quietly. “Somethin’ your grandmother said. Stories get told one word at a time. Maybe she was talkin’ about life I didn’t have the ear to hear it though.”

The kid waited for more. His father let his head drop, his chin nearly resting on his collarbone. His eyes blinked and he closed them finally and lay there, breathing deeply, and the kid thought he passed out but he opened his eyes and turned to him. They regarded each other without speaking.

No matter who you are, what your background is or where you live, Richard Wagamese has written a great novel that will speak to you. Medicine Walk is one of the most profound reads released in 2014.

Wikipedia page for Richard Wagamese

Link to McClelland & Stewart’s page for “Medicine Walk”

 

 

A great deal of my writing is rooted in personal experience | Q&A with author Terry Fallis

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Terry Fallis (TF) is well-known and well-loved Canadian author. To date, he has published three novels (The Best Laid Plans, The High Road, Up and Down) and his fourth (No Relation)  will be released to bookstores in May. The Best Laid Plans was made into a television series which aired on CBC (Link to online episodes) back in February. Fallis currently lives in Toronto
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1) So you have been releasing excerpts of your new novel “No Relation” in the past little while. How has it been received so far? Could you provide a brief synopsis?
TF: I’ve podcast all of my novels in their entirety, chapter-by-chapter, and made them available for free through my blog and iTunes. It was how I tried to build an audience for my first novel, The Best Laid Plans back in 2007 before it was ever published. Fortunately, McClelland & Stewart have allowed me to continued to produce and release the podcast version of my novels. I’ve just started to podcast No Relation. As of today (March 14), chapters 1, 2 and 3 have been posted. I’ll try to release one chapter each week until it’s finished. I quite enjoy podcasting my novels. They often generate interesting comments from listeners and makes for a more intimate connection with readers/listeners.
2) It has been over a month since the last episode of “The Best Laid Plans” aired. How do you feel about the whole situation of your work being made into a TV show. Would you do it again?
TF: Contrary to the experience many writers endure, I quite enjoyed the process. While the TV series is not exactly like the book, it certainly captured the themes and ideas I was trying to illuminate. I would certainly do it again. In fact, I’m now active with two different producers who are trying to bring Up and Down, and my new novel, No Relation to the screen. We’re a long way from confirming anything yet, but my fingers are crossed.
3) I read on your Facebook profile that “The Best Laid Plans” is being produced as a stage musical in Vancouver. What are your feelings towards that? Are you involved with the production of that?
TF: I’d be quite thrilled to see it brought to the stage, though it’ll take a more creative mind than mine. Vern Thiessen is the playwright working on it and he’s a superstar in the Canadian theatre firmament. I have very little involvement in it, but I’m looking forward to flying out to Vancouver sometime for the premiere.
4) Who are some of your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?
TF: Here are a few of my favourite writers: Robertson Davies, Mordecai Richler, Paul Quarrington, Donald Jack, John Irving, Stephen Fry, William Boyd, and Christopher Buckley. Right now I’m reading William Boyd’s, Restless for our book club.
5) You seem active on the social media platforms like Facebook. Do you find such tools useful in helping with your writing?
TF: I’m not certain being active in the social media space actually helps my writing, but I am convinced that it helps me forge a stronger relationship with readers, which I think is also very important. It deepens my connection with them.
6) How much of your writing is based on personal experience? Do you include other people’s personal stories in your novels or do you rely on your imagination to come up with some of the situations in your books?
TF: A great deal of my writing is rooted in personal experience (except for the S&M scenes in The Best Laid Plans). I am a member in good standing of the “write what you know” school of writing. I just find that I can write with more conviction, authenticity and authority if I’m writing about something I’ve experienced, or care about. I certainly use my imagination to extend story elements beyond my own experience, but there’s usually a foundation of personal knowledge on which I’m building (again, except for the S&M scenes in The Best Laid Plans. I just made all of that up.)
7) You have a background in Engineering. Do you still do anything in your field? (Maybe building a hovercraft in your garage or a swing to test G-forces out in the woods someplace?)
TF: While I do have a degree in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, I’ve never practiced engineering in my career. But I still think like an engineer and did so even before I ever went off to McMaster University. A classmate and I built three full sized hang gliders and a twin-engine single-seater hovercraft, all by the age of 15. So I was probably destined to study engineering. But I don’t build very much these days other than stories.
8) So you have done some public readings for your novels. How do you like doing those events?
TF I’ve done a lot of events and still do (http://terryfallis.com/appearances). I truly believe that hitting the road and speaking/reading at book clubs, libraries, literary festivals, community organizations, and even conferences is a great way to sell books. I’m not very good at saying ‘no’ when I’m invited to speak and/or read. And I seldom want to say no. The more people you can reach, the more books you’re going  to sell, and the more likely it is a publisher will let you write another book. Plus, I actually quite enjoy it, which, I gather, is not typically the case for many novelists.
9) There are a lot of people who seem to be writing fiction right now just for their own personal enjoyment. Do you have any advice for people who are doing that task right now?
TF: I think that’s the purest form of writing. When you’re mind is focused on landing a publisher rather than honing your craft and making your manuscript as good as it can be, you can’t possibly write your best. Better to focus first on writing something you care about, and then when it’s finished, you can worry about whether it might ever be published.
10) So after the dust of “No Relation” has settled, what is next for you? Are you planning any more novels?
TF: No Relation will hit bookstores on May 20th. But, yes, I’m currently working on my fifth novel, tentatively called, Poles Apart. I hope to finished it this fall. Not sure when it will be published, but likely sometime around the Fall of 2015.