Tag Archives: Patrick Crean Editions

Reflecting on the Ties We Bind | Review of “Little Sister” by Barbara Gowdy (2017) Patrick Crean Editions

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There always seems to be a magical and unexplainable bond between people at times. Be it friends, family members or even total strangers, we seem attracted to certain people so much that we are able to sense their thoughts and emotions without even saying a word out loud. And it is that sense of connectivity with certain individuals that Barbara Gowdy has her characters explore in her book Little Sister.

Page 6

Her nose bled.

She overreached the Kleenex and had to steer her hand back. An aftermath of misery clung to her, and she let herself cry a bit. She must have fallen asleep, except the precise, mundane details, not just the spider and the skirt but also her cold fingers, her childish grip on the pen, the background noises – that whole ordinary, filled-in world and its myriad sensations –  had felt as real as this, only (she looked around) in much clearer focus.

Harriet? Who was Harriet? Rose had never before dreamed that she was someone else. Or inside someone else. Yes, inside more accurately described the feeling of visiting, as opposed to having, the woman’s body. She sniffed her empty coffee cup and thought of their new employee, Lloyd, the former drug dealer.

Gowdy has given us readers something profound and unique to ponder over with her protagonist Rose Bowan. Every time a thunderstorm hits, Rose loses consciousness and has visions inhabiting another woman’s body. And while inside that body, Rose witnesses actions and emotions of ‘Harriet’, a professional woman who’s life is about upended by a pregnancy due to a affair with a married co-worker. And while Rose is encased by Harriet’s life and emotions, she begins to ponder her own relationships – a boyfriend, a mother with dementia, a sister who mysterious passed away years ago. It is through Rose’s eyes and thoughts, readers are given ground to carefully consider their own relationships in their lives.

Page 143-144

Ava’s papier-mâché parrot, Tobikumu, gazed sightlessly toward the window. He had been a Christmas present from a great-uncle who had lived for several years in Tokyo. Rose had gotten Kazuyuki, a delicate papier-mâché cellist with elongated fingers resting on fine strings that might have been dental floss. One day she had taken him to the house of a new Japanese friend, and there, within five minutes, the friend’s poodle had town him to confetti.

Under Ava’s care, Tobikumu, the parrot, stayed perfect. Under Rose’s he lost his glass eyes. She put him on her bedside table so that before falling asleep she could look at his sockets and recover the guilt she’d shed during the day, in those moments when she’d been lighthearted or animated or – the most bewildering offence – pleased with herself. She thought of the guilt as survivor’s guilt, and of survivor’s guilt as a guilt necessary for survival. Tobikumu was her victim and accuser both. She counted on him to get her to cry herself to sleep.

She cried secretly, in near silence. Still, her parents saw her misery and sent her to a child psychologist, an old woman who was half deaf and therefore needed to sit next to Rose on the sofa. Rose didn’t mind. Dr. Grewal’s baked-bread grandmotherly smell and her cracked brown face like dried mud were unthreatening and a little heartbreaking. She spoke in a soft, accented voice. She had a tendency to repeat Rose’s answers, for both their sakes, Rose understood, in order that Rose might hear them said back to her, and that Dr. Grewal might verify she’d heard them correctly. Rose never mentioned Tobikumu, and when the subject came around to Ava, she said what any normal girl getting better would say: Yes, I’m still sad. No, not as sad as I was. Yes, I understand it wasn’t my fault. Mostly the dwelt on Rose’s present circumstance, her friends and school, her shyness. To distract Dr. Grewal from asking about Ava, Rose mad her shyness sound like a more serious problem than it was. Year after year, as Dr. Grewal’s deafness worsened and she sat ever closer, Rose offed up the minor troubles and triumphs of her week.

Gowdy’s writing style has a direct feel to it. The story is not filled with excess descriptions or extra phrases. Readers are thrust into Rose’s train of thoughts or paths of actions without being given any room for second guessing or looking back. Readers are stuck following Rose’s life like poor Rose is stuck observing Harriet’s life during one of her trances.

Page 152

She would never love him, but she wanted him to love her. The man you were with was supposed to love you. Besides, he had loved his wife and often told her so.

Then one morning she stopped caring whether he loved her or not. She went to sleep caring and woke up asking herself, what am I doing? Apart from the strain of listening to his countless specific and indefinite resentments, there was the fact that he preferred to see her mid-morning, during those hours when, normally, she would be having breakfast and doing household chores. But how do you break up with a lonely, recent-immigrant widower?

Barbara Gowdy has certainly given us readers some considerations in regards to our relationships as we read Little Sister. The plot is matter-of-fact and direct, and  it is certainly one that is worthy of reflecting on.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for Little Sister

Link to Barbara Gowdy’s website

 

 

The Strife of Others and Our Own | Review of “I Carried You Home” by Alan Gibney (2016) Patrick Crean Editions

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We all have tried to deal with trauma and strife within our family units. Death, illness, loss of fortunes, etc. take their toll upon psyches and,  in turn,  manifest themselves in irrational behaviors. So how do we at least try to relate to odd manners when they occur? Literature gives us a starting point to talk about our problems. And one such point for readers to use for a discussion about family problems is Alan Gibney’s I Carried You Home.

Page 1-2

The police said Will landed on the hood of the car, but I imagined it differently at the time. I imagined him flying over the odd and hitting the ground and everything going quiet and still, and it staying like that for a long moment, the snow falling gently on the wreck, and then the wind starting up again and her waking with the noise and pulling herself free and shouting into the trees, searching until she found him in the snow. She didn’t think of dragging him to the car and leaving him on the seat and going for help. She wasn’t capable of leaving him. She carried him on her back through the blizzard, up and down the steep hills, over the ice and snow. She kept forgetting what had happened. Why was she there? Why did her face hurt? A ditch. A tree. Keep moving. She was bent over, balancing him on her back, his arms over her shoulders. She shuffled forward, holding his wrists, his face against her neck. Her hands burned in the wind. How far was it? She drove it very day. It was at least a mile. There long hills, a good mile. Will groaned and kicked his legs. Hold on, she shouted. He coughed against her neck. Something warm rolled down her back. We’re almost there. Her teeth hurt, her neck hurt. She pulled down on his wrists to stop him struggling. Hold on.

I was doing homework in the living room, watching the snow swirling around the garden lights. I saw someone coming up the driveway, an old woman bent over carrying a bundle on her back her long hair whipping in the wind. She looked up, and it was my mother, her face pale blue in the porch light. I ran outside in my T-shirt.

– What happened? What happened? I shouted over the wind.

 

This is a very intense book that deals with internal thoughts and emotions – things many of us rarely wish to talk about it. We are introduce to Ashe, an adolescent male who is trying to mature into a man. Yet his already awkward home life is shattered even more as his brother is killed and his mother shuts herself away from the world.

Page 10-11

After the prayer, Nell stood beside the grave as people filed by.

-We will see you at the reception, Mrs. Finder, the priest said to her.

She said nothing. He touched her shoulder but she didn’t look up. He walked down the hill with his head bowed. The people started drifting away. My girlfriend, Sheila, walked up the hill with a white rose in her hand. She was lame in one leg, which made it hard for her to climb up the slope. She went over to Nell and handed her the flower. Nell stared down at it, as if she couldn’t understand what it was for, the she crumpled it and dropped it on the ground. I took Sheila by the arm and led her down to her parents. I’m sorry, I said to them. They stared up at Nell for a time, then turned and left.

Nell just stayed in the same spot, her eyes shut, her jaw muscles working working like she was chewing something. I stood by a tree to get away from the wind. Karl stayed out in the open shivering, his hands clasped in front of him like an altar boy. The snow started up for a while and then stopped. Why hadn’t Aunt Susan come, I wondered. Wasn’t she told? How long did we have to stand by the damn hole? It was black from where I stood. I couldn’t look at it. I watched Nell rocking gently from side to side, the wind pulling at her dress and hair. Then her knees buckled and she fell face down on the snow with her arms out. Karl ran over and grabbed her under the arms and sat her up.

-Breathe, Nell. You’ve fainted. Breathe in.

-Don’t touch me, she said, pushing him away and trying to get up but sitting down again. She held her hand out to me. Please.

For the a book that deals with such deep emotions, the language in it is very simple. We can follow Ashe thoughts with ease and grasp his anger and frustrations. And sense his discomforts when situations arise that cause him trepidation. This is a great book for reader to come to grips with their own anguish no matter what their age may be.

Page 127

-Mom.

-All right? It’s a simple promise. If I’m alive, you won’t play with the gun. You won’t touch it. Just promise me that.

-Okay, I promise.

-The day I’m gone, you can do whatever you want.

-You’re such a bitch.

-I’m not a nice person, Ashe. It’s true. I know that. And I wish I cared about it, but I don’t seem to right now, I’m sorry. I don’t know how I’m meant to act these days. Susan told me she slept with Karl, and you found out about it. But the thing I couldn’t figure out was why she woke me up to tell me. Does she really think I care what she does with Karl? Because I don’t. I really don’t care what anyone does. It’s not a nice thing. I know that . . . Look, I’m going back upstairs now, but I expect you to keep your promise. I wouldn’t expect it from anyone else, but I do from you. I hold you to a higher standard Ashe.

– I’m not going to touch the gun, I said.

-Okay then.

She walked past me and paused at the door.

-You’re the only person I trust Ashe . . .You’re your own man, I know that . . . Everyone else is just wandering around, spinning in the wind, but not you . . . Don’t think I haven’t noticed.

She went upstairs. Suddenly I was dog-tired. I didn’t want to go outside and sleep in the cold. I went into the living room and lay down on the sofa.

I Carried You Home by Alan Gibney is a complex and interesting read that can help one come to grips with their own emotions. A unique piece of literature and an emotional one too.

*****

Link to HarperCollins Canada’s website for I Carried You Home