Sunday, June 28, 2015
Reader, Official Member of the Human Race! This story, to quote the opening of Love May Fail, entitles you to “ugliness and beauty, heartache and joy – the great highs and lows of existence – and everything in between."
Portia Kane is a lost soul. A crisis of marriage and a born-again feminist conscience throws her from the thralls of her filthy rich 30-something existence back to a hometown and cast of characters she had abandoned long ago. Instead of succumbing to her new (old) circumstances, Portia sets out to validate her own life and choices through a rescue mission seemingly doomed to fail: convincing her battered, retired high school English teacher to return to the classroom. She has decided that he will recommit to his life’s calling: inspiring youth to live up to the greatness they are destined to find. Naturally, this is a task beyond Portia alone. With the help of an ex-heroine addict, a friendly waitress, a child metal-head, a special needs hoarder mother, and a vibrant old nun, she fumbles along her in her scheme without relent.
Ultimately, this is a tale of resilience: trudging through the muck of living, staring down failure, and re-emerging from the hollow depths of ourselves. Matthew Quick shows us the glowing potential we all have. All it takes is an unwavering dedication to holding just a thread of hope, and a stubborn persistence in choosing to find the best version of ourselves.
- Amie Willoughby
Sunday, June 21, 2015
When thinking about Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King, one finds it hard to put it into just one definite genre. The novel is an intricate cross between a contemporary finding yourself story and dystopian fiction. If I were to compare this novel to a similar young adult book the first thing that comes to mind is both We Were Liars by E. Lockhart and The Program by Suzanne Young. Both two very different novels but when putting those concepts together you get this book.
Glory is just about to graduate from high school. When she was little her mom committed suicide and Glory has always wondered if she would go the same way. Then one night, Glory and her best friend Ellie try something very daring that ends up changing both of them, for better and for worse. Glory can now look at anyone and see their infinite past and their future, from their ancestors to their decedents 50 years from now. She uses this knowledge the write about an upcoming civil war based around women’s rights. She may not see a future for herself but she is determined to break apart this future one vision at a time.
The book's beginning was a tad slow and a bit gloomy with hearing about her mom's suicide and what that has done to Glory, her father, and the others in her life. However, the world of the book was so deeply woven and intricate that it makes up for the gloom. The plot was well thought out and every scene had a reason to be where it was and why. I loved Glory’s sarcastic humour as well as A.S. King’s dramatic but realistic writing style. The thing I loved most about this novel was that it was so realistic. A civil war like the one in the novel could happen, so to see it played out in front of you in such detail is frightening!
If you are becoming frustrated with authors who end a book or series without wrapping everything up, then this is the book for you! Since Glory writes about the future you get to know everything that will happen to her and all the other characters you grow to care about, or hate, by the end of this novel. I found this to be a strange twist especially in a young adult novel but was left feeling satisfied with how the book ended.
Jordan Teasdale is a Grade 11 student who has been reading since her mom first dropped the Harry Potter books into her hands. Her love for reading has only grown from there. She blogs at covertoocover.wordpress.com
Colin Campbell's grandfather filled his grandson's idyllic childhood summers in Nova Scotia with chores, play, and a deep appreciation for the joys of a day spent doing the things you love best. So much so that you don't grow old that day "Its a free day." As an adult with a typical crowded urban life, and a marriage where the bottom fell out, Colin had lost sight of the possibilities of such simple pleasures. Deep into therapy he paints a frank portrait of an emotionally closed off man. Just as you feel there must be some skeleton he is not revealing, a workmate persuades him to look for a rescue dog as a distraction and for something new to care for.
As soon as Campbell describes Kong, later renamed George, you feel the potential joy of a wonderful match. As the cohabiting partner of another felicitous canine rescue match, I can only echo the unlooked-for pleasures doggy love. Some personalities are just meant to be together. The sad testimony of George's fears and likely ill treatment are evident in his timorous behaviour. The adventures at the dog park and the obedience class are amusingly observed, but the description of the long drive from Toronto to Los Angeles with George and Todd the dog's unfriendly friend had me in tears of helpless laughter.
George's coming to life in his true vocation as a beach dog - complete with surfer dude tendencies - seals Free Days With Geroge as a "tale" worthy of promotion to dog lovers and observers of human life. I would peg this as a great Father's Day gift for dads and grandfather's alike and even if you aren't a big reader, the wonderful photos are enough to elicit a chorus of awwwws. Reading this will bring you the gift of developing your own definition of a free day.
- Rosslyn Bentley
Monday, June 15, 2015
This collection of short stories is the second one by Graham Swift, a London-based writer who has won top literary prizes in his thirty-five-year publishing history. His novel Ever After (1992) took the French Prix de Meilleur Livre Étranger; Last Orders (1996) won the Booker Prize.
England and Other Stories presents an unsettling look into current life in that country and at human lives in general. These tales focus on the absurdities of everyday happenings and the shakiness of our beliefs. Stylistically, these stories' brevity–six to eight pages, on average–and casual tone amplify the existential themes.
For example, in "Remember This," we see snippets of a marriage: its beginning and its end (in divorce). Nick secretly writes a love letter to Lisa on their honeymoon, because he's drawn to record how momentous the event is for him. Part of Nick's furtive note reads, "I never thought something so wonderful could happen to me. You are the love of my life. Remember this always. Whatever comes, remember this ..."
Intending that Lisa never see the letter, Nick finds it years later, when the grind of career and child-raising has affected the marriage; the couple is now separated, possibly about to be divorced. Standing at the bathroom mirror, Nick chastises himself for being a romantic fool. He can't part, however, with the long-ago record of his love for Lisa.
Shifting from personal issues to national ones, the book's title story "England" opens with Ken, a middle-aged coastguard in Somerset County, driving to work before dawn. He comes across Jonny Dewhurst–black Caribbean immigrant and stand-up comedian–sleeping in a car beside a country road, and the two have a long conversation over coffee. Their talk ended, Ken realizes that Jonny–the "foreigner," the "alien"–has seen more of England, and understands more about the country, than he himself ever will in his closed provincial life.
"England" is a sobering tale, like many of these stories. Often, after reading one of them, I was discomfited, my mind turning questions over and over. For readers looking for short fiction that packs a psychological punch, England Other Stories won't disappoint.
Bob Young’s short stories have been published in the literary journals Other Voices, Postscripts to Darkness, and Great Lakes Review. He has completed his first novel, a mystery that partially involves the Grand River land dispute of 2006-07, and he’s currently submitting it to literary agents. Any takers? Visit his website: rbyoung.ca
Sunday, June 7, 2015
I've just finished Anne Enright's The Green Road and I can safely report it's a good book. The writing is at once grand in its capacity and small in its attention to detailed, particular moments. With a compelling use of a shifting third person limited narration, the plot traces the Madigan family over decades. Each long chapter follows one of the four children in a specific moment in time, richly evoking place and character. Each successive chapter moves chronologically, leaps forward, always toward something. That something is the eventual family reunion when all children are gathered at their childhood home for Christmas.
It wouldn't be an outrageous argument to claim these chapters are linked short stories, such is the telescopic focus on the one child, the particular time and place. For instance, the (best) chapter following Dan through the gay community in the 1980s, AIDS ravaged New York, is a tight story unto itself. Even while the development of Dan's character comes to have resonance in the eventual reunion chapter such that this earlier chapter is necessary for the latter, his New York story could be chapter self-contained for its own sake.
To this point on the function of the character-focused chapters: Perhaps because the mother in the story, Rosaleen, does not get a chapter onto herself (in this way the form mirrors the message that she has devoted her sense of self entirely to serving her children), the climactic moments that focus on her feel less pressing than they might had we had time to connect with her first-hand. That said, the children's reaction to these climactic scenes give the reader a firm sense of the importance and reverberations of the moments.
It's a good book for exploring questions of familial loyalty, of how and when identity becomes fixed, of who we want to be versus who we might actually be, and of what we owe our family (read 'owe' as broadly as you can: what debts we aim to repay, what we have because of them, what obligations are due). These questions get worked out in individual chapters and across the whole with each successive chapter adding layer and echo as the reader comes to piece together both chronology and family hierarchies.
A good book, then, is one that is well written, with strong character development and thematically rich. This one then is good, and given the profile of Anne Enright, will probably be described as great. You be the judge.
When's she not reading, Erin Aspenlieder is teaching, running or eating cookies (sometimes all at once). She prefers fiction and books made of paper. She blogs at literaryvice.ca