NEXT YEAR FOR SURE

ZORY LEIGH PETERSON

Their friends all agreed that Chris and Katheryn had the perfect relationship. He called her, “Katheryn the Awesome.” Their relationship is a mutual admiration society. Petterson explores what Chris and Kathryn actually need from others – friends and lovers both. “What she secretly wanted,” Kathryn thinks of a couple she and Chris are old friends with, “was for the four of them to be married somehow.… [Not] where you’re in each other’s beds, but the promise, that explicit understanding, that [they] were bound to each other, the four of them, for life.”

 When Chris starts to harbour feelings for his friend Emily, Kathryn encourages him to act. I think I have a crush on Emily, he tells Kathryn in the shower. This is where they confide crushes. A heart crush or a boner crush? Kathryn says. He doesn’t know how to choose. It’s not particularly sexual, his crush. He hasn’t thought about Emily that way. And Chris would never say boner. But it’s not just his heart, either. It’s his molecules. So he tells Kathryn about his molecules. How the first time he met Emily, it felt like his DNA had been re-sequenced. How he felt an instant kinship and a tenderness that was somehow painful. How, whenever he talks to her, he comes away feeling hollowed out and nauseous like after swimming too long in a chlorinated pool. And how – this, sheepishly – he has spent days arranging and rearranging their bookshelves and postcards and takeout menus, to make the apartment not only as welcoming as possible but as informative. As compelling. You’re awesome, Kathryn says.

Chris’ crush is a young free spirit named Emily who works odd jobs and lives in a communal house full of interesting characters. Chris does approach Emily, the two begin going out, and Chris’s formerly “perfect” life with Kathryn rapidly starts to change. Rapidly and lots. This is polyandry at its tamest. Chris prefers cuddling to sex.

Petterson’s excellent storytelling stills make it an excellent read.

THE END OF EDDY

EDOUARD LOUIS

EDDY is an autobiographical novel of violence and brutality, racism, misogyny and homophobia. It is set in a small manufacturing town in northern France but it could have been in a mining town in Great Brittin or in the southern USA. Into this mileu of active and passive hate grew an unusual boy, Eddy Bellegueule (pretty-face) the birth name of the author, effeminate with a high pitched voice. He instinctively loathes the food, sexuality and clothes of his peers. In consequence, he is beaten, abused and terrorised. As a “faggot” or “homo” he is the lowest of the low; lower than women, lower than even an Arab, Jew or Algerian. He makes repeated attempts to assume the proper masculine role that his culture requires of him, but despite his brother’s teachings, every time he fails, he assumes the fault is entirely his. He lives and breathes unqualified self-loathing. He describes his mother, “She was often angry. She’d take any occasion to voice her indignation, railing day in, day out, against the politicians, against new regulations reducing welfare payments, against the powers that be, which she hated from the deepest fibres of her being. And yet she would not hesitate to invoke those same powers she otherwise so hated when she felt ruthlessness was called for: ruthlessness in dealing with Arabs, with alcohol, with drugs, with any kind of sexual behaviour she didn’t approve of. She would often remark that ‘what we need is some law and order in this country.’ ” His father took pride in the fact that he didn’t beat his wife but the walls were full of holes where he had punched the walls in rage. His older brothers didn’t treat their girlfriends so kindly. “I would see my father, after one of our cats had a litter, take the newborn kittens and slip them into a plastic grocery bag and swing it against some cement edge until the bag was filled with blood and the meowing had ceased. I had seen him butcher pigs in the yard, and drink the still-warm blood he was collecting in order to make blood sausage (blood on his lips, his chin, his T-shirt). ‘It’s the best, the blood you get from an animal right when it dies.’ ”

EDDY is well written but not an easy read.

YOU GOTTA GET BIGGER DREAMS: My Life in Stories and Pictures

29093006ALLEN CUMMING

CUMMING has given us another delightful memoir. DREAMS is a series of vignettes from his wild, fascinating and star filled life. Most of them delightful and hilarious. Many of them illustrated with photos. He is the king, or should that be queen of selfies. As well as day to day fun, he loves to write about meeting the big names like Elizabeth Taylor. He was nervous meeting Liz at Carrie Fisher’s birthday party and couldn’t think of anything to say. Carrie told him, “Do you know how many gay men wish they had your problem right now!” as she sent him back to converse with the star. So Cumming sits beside Liz on the bench in Carrie Fisher’s hallway. She tells him how she injured herself by falling in her dining room and hitting the floor, hard.  “‘Alan,’ she growled like the Cat on the Hot Tin Roof she still was. ‘You have never seen such a black ass.’ “My mouth gaped open in an involuntary gasp. I waited just a beat longer, then with the most saucy twinkle in my eye I had ever mustered, threw down my slam dunk. ‘Oh, Elizabeth,’ I said. ‘I bet I have!’  “Suddenly her hand unlocked from mine and slapped me across the chest. She cackled like a trucker who’d just heard a good fart joke.”

Cumming’s friend Eddie’s dream was to meet Oprah so when Allen got tickets to a dinner where she would be he took Eddie as his plus one. Only their table was far from centre near the bathrooms. But save the day Oprah is human after all and needed to pee. “Seizing the screen_shot_2016-09-13_at_4-42-30_pmmoment, Eddie says, “in a very endearing and choirboy-like voice, ‘Oprah! May I have a picture with you? It would be my dream.” “You gotta get bigger dreams,” Oprah opines as Cummin snaps the photo saving the words for the title of his book.

Dreams is a quick fun read.

FAITHFUL

8cf0373c-a063-11e6-9216-1158aa9d4175-1020x1560ALICE HOFFMAN

Shelby survived the accident relatively unscarred but her best friend and bad-ass-in-arms, Helene’s brain was without oxygen for over six minutes. She was left in a coma, needing a breathing machine, being kept alive in her childhood bed. Hoards of strangers came to pray, hoping for a miracle. Shelby always blamed herself and thought she should have been the one who had been damaged. After a suicide attempt and a nervous breakdown, Shelby moved to Manhattan with her drug dealer who would be studying pharmacy. She found a job at a pet shop and eventually began to take in rescue dogs. Her best friend has three beautiful kids that Shelby comes to adore almost as much as her dogs. As unlikeable as Shelby is it is hard not to love her.

636130990761823041-author-photo-new-credit-deborah-feingoldAlice Hoffman is a great writer. You will enjoy Faithful.

HAG-SEED

hag-seedMARGARET ATWOOD

A play within a play has become a cliche but our beloved Margaret has switched it to a play within a novel to present us with this wonderfully playful book based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Felix is untimely thrust from his position as artistic director of a Canadian theatre festival by a rival just at the moment when he was about to unleash his greatest creation upon the world – an ambitious production of The Tempest. He retires from public life to a cave-like dwelling to plan retribution and redemption. Meanwhile he accepts a job teaching literacy in a correctional facility where he has the prisoners stage the Bard’s plays, and literacy rates do go up. All regular swearing is banned during rehearsals. They may only use the curse words Shakespeare has used in that play. “Toads, beetles, bats light on you. Filth as thou art. Abhorr’ed slave. The red plague rid you. Hag-seed. All the infections that the sun sucks up…” Margaret must have had great fun write this nove.

imgresDon’t miss this delightful gem.

TRUE LIES

MARIKO TAMAKImariko-tamaki_14

This slim volume of vignettes, stories and essays are both hilarious and outrageous. In the introduction, Tamaki confesses, “I have no problem admitting that I am a liar at heart. It’s true. I am.”  She compares “lies to pearls: they look better strung together in a set.”  Of course, the reader knows not which is fiction and which is truth. Some stories are written from the time before she came out as a lesbian, such as, “Reasons to Give a Blow Job,” and after, “The Epil-Lady vs. The Hairy Asian.” An epil pen is used to pull body hair out by its roots.

If you appreciate the ludicrous and aren’t squeamish about sex, you will enjoy this book.

GUAPA

SALEEM HADDADguapa

“Guapa” encompasses a day in the life of Rasa, a young gay man in an unnamed Middle Eastern country during the turbulence of the Arab Spring. His path winds from his family’s upper-middle-class home, where his family is on the verge of discovering his secret relationship with another young man, to the city’s poverty-stricken suburbs, where the embers of revolution are catching fire, to the police stations where regime thugs brutalize and intimidate dissidents, to a lavish wedding in the city’s most exclusive hotel. Along the way, he is forced to reckon with the hidden forces that have driven both him and his country to a fever pitch of despair and frustration.

Told with simple elegance and wry humour, “Guapa” is both a universal story of the perils of adulthood and a deeply personal examination of culture and identity. Haddad writes like an Arab Tennessee Williams, fueled equally by rage and compassion as he explores the social, sexual and economic chasms that divide his characters from each other, and themselves.

CLOUD

ERICK McCORMACK

cloud Harry Steen’s life is shadowed by two events that happened when he was younger. The first was a brief but passionate affair with an intriguing beauty in the uplands of Scotland where he was about to begin his career. She jilted him for her fiance and he left with a broken heart he believed would never heal.  The second was a few years later when he was a Canadian mining executive, on a business trip to Mexico, he discovered a rare 18th century tome. The Obsidian Cloud is an account of an unexplained, true phenomenon: a black cloud with uncannily reflective properties that stalled before dispersing itself in a rain of black hail over Scotland. But it’s less this bizarre event that captures Harry’s attention than the fact that it supposedly occurred in the obscure town where, at age 21, he met his one true and unrequited love. Back at home he send the book to a rare books curator in Glasgow to see what scholars can tell him about this unusual book. The novel tells his life story: working on boats to escape Scotland and the past, chance meetings with remarkable people, being groomed for a pomccormack-180sition in a mining company and the family as well. Cloud is well written but has a weak ending.

 

THE ROUND HOUSE

louiseerdrichLOUISE EDRICH

Round House begins the brutal beating, rape and attempted murder of Joe Coutts’ mother. They live on a remote Indian reservation deep in rural North Dakota with Joe’s father, a tribal judge. Joe looses his mother at 13 years old to a deep depression. The rapist is identified but tribal courts cannot try white people and the justice system off reserve has little interest in an Indian woman who has been raped. As Joe comes to the realisation that his father, a tribal judge, can do nothing – “All you catch are drunks and hot dog thieves” – he resolves to track down the perpetrator himself. The relationship Joe has with his childhood friends is a highlight of the story as well as the background culture of the Chippewa people.

THE REASON YOU WALK

WAB KINEW

“To be hurt, yet forgive. To do wrong, but forgive yourself. To depart from this world leaving only love. This is the reason you walk.” Deeply spiritual,
Wabwab2walk is a combination of biography of Kinew’s father and memoir of  his own spiritual journey. Much healing takes place in this history. It is a must read for anyone interested in First Nations issues. Kinew’s description of the Sun Dance ceremonies is particularly powerful. “I could feel the peg push through [ my pectoral muscles] and spun. I felt the blood dripping down. I sensed the air in the cuts; I could taste it. The elders say that when you are cut you are fresh and open to everything around you, vulnerable to the spirit world.”

Reconciliation on an individual level and the national level is an important theme. “Reconciliation is not something realized on a grand level, something that happens when a prime minister and a national chief shake hands. It takes place at a much more individual level. Reconciliation is realized when two people come together and understand that what they share unites them and that what is different between them needs to be respected.”

“More than any inheritance, more than any sacred item, more than any title, the legacy [my father] left behind is this: as on that day in the sundance circle when he lifted me from the depths, he taught us that our time on earth we ought to love one another, and that when our hearts are broken, we ought to work hard to make them whole again. This is at the centre of sacred ceremonies practised by Indigenous people. This is what so many of us seek, no matter where we begin life. This is the reason you walk.”

Read this book!

 

GUT: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ

gutGIULA ENDERS

Enders has penned an engaging look at our digestive tract: mouth to end and all parts in between. Gut is readable and at times funny. “Have my new girlfriend/boyfriend and I been together long enough for farting in front of each other to be okay—and if so, is it down to me to break the ice and go first?” She has scientist’s drive to uncover the worlds hidden beneath what’s visible to the naked eye. The vast legion of microorganisms populating our guts are “the weirdest of creatures” inhabiting “the most amazing giant forest ever.” The gut’s nervous system, food intolerances, allergies, gut bacteria and even the science of bad breath are discussed. She suggests the body’s “most underrated organ” plays a greater role in our overall well being than we might have otherwise thought.” Medical diagrams show the small intestine as a sausage thing chaotically going through our belly. But it is an extraordinary work of architecture that moves so harmonically when you see it during surgery. It’s clean and smooth, like soft fabric.”

SWEETLAND

sweetMICHAEL CRUMMEY

Sweetland is an ode to the dying Newfoundland way of small town or harbour life and the intrepid souls who lived there. In 2012, the government has offered the citizen of Sweetland $1oo,ooo each to resettle else where. The condition is all must comply. Moses Sweetland, is one of two holdouts refusing to take up the government’s seemingly generous offer. He is determined to stay, no matter the cost. His obstinacy prevents his friends and neighbours from collecting the government’s money, tearing apart the tight-knit community as a result. Sweetland is an old curmudgeon. The book’s cast of characters is delightful. The challenges to survival on the sea and on the coast are chilling.

“They never lost their way or seemed even momentarily uncertain of their location. They traveled narrow paths cut through tuckamore and bog or took shortcuts along the shoreline, chancing the unpredictable sea ice. Every hill and pond and stand of trees, every meadow and droke for miles was named and catalogued in their heads. At night they navigated by the moon and stars or by counting outcrops and valleys or by the smell of spruce and salt water and wood smoke. It seemed to Newman they had an additional sense lost to modern men for lack of use.”

PEE-SHY

spin2FRANK SPINELLI

As a prepubescent boy of eleven Spinelli was repeatedly sexually assaulted by his boy scout master, a decorated police officer. Bill was a ruthlessly seductive man who lured several youth into his bedroom for “boy bonding.” When he just could not handle one more camping trip or a private session at Scout Master Bill’s house, he told his family. But his family didn’t know how to support him and the psycological effects lasted well into his adult life. He developed paruresis, pee-shyness, a social-anxiety phobia rendering one unable to urinate in the (real or perceived) presence of others. He was unable to maintain physical intimacy with others. Eventually he became a doctor and authored a book about gay men’s health issues. His mother had told him the scspinout master had died of AIDS but later Spinelli found that Bill had written a memoir about saving a youth and adopting him. He was horrified that this paedophile continued to have access to under aged boys. He made it his mission to stop Bill from harming more children.

FOR TODAY I AM A BOY

fortodayiamaboyKIM FU

Peter is a Chinese-Canadian boy with a secret: he is truly a girl. He calls his penis the thing. He tells his sisters, “I want to be pretty like you.” All three girls sense their brother’s secret, but it is the eldest Helen who brings reality to it. “You can be handsome, like Father or Bruce Lee.” The father is overjoyed to finally have a son and does all he can to make him into a  true male. He complains that Peter cries more than his sisters.  Mother is not much of a presence in the household, so dominated by her husband she is. When Peter offers to help with supper clean up father stops him, “It’s women’s work.”

When he moves to Montreal as a young adult he is more able to explore who he is. When he meets some young friends he surmises,  “What right had they to be born into a world where they were taught to look endlessly into themselves…To ask themselves, and not be told, whether they were boys or girls?”

Fu has written an excellent and challenging first novel. It will be interesting to see where she goes from here.

BELZHAR

belzharMEG WOLITZER

“Words matter. This what (the teacher) has basically been saying from the start. Words matter. All semester we were looking for the words to say what we needed to say. We were looking for the our voice.” Belzhar is about the power of writing and the power of books. The narrator of the novel, Jamaica “Jam” Gallahue, is enrolled at The Wooden Barn in Vermont, an institution dedicated to the care of “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teenagers.” The Wooden Barn is the type of sanctuary a sensitive, difficult and well-to-do teenager is shuttled off to when, as Jam’s mother puts it, “We don’t know what else to do with you, babe!” She has been chosen for a peculiar class, Special Topics in English, where only a few select students will study with a respected, older teacher, to study only one writer in-depth. This year the poetess Sylvia Plath has been chosen for study. Journals are distributed for twice weekly writing about any topic. Each student in the group has suffered a life-altering calamity and when they write in their journal they go back to the time of their trauma to relive the time before it happened. Belzhar (pronounced BEL-jhar in homage to Plath’s “The Bell Jar”) is their code name for this trance state. When they return from Belzhar exactly five pages have been written in their journals, about what they did in the trance.

Wolitzer is a great writer. At times Belzhar was a page turner. Had I known it was a young adult book I likely wouldn’t have read it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

ALL MY PUNY SORROWS

BT-miriamMIRIAM TOEWS

Sorrows is both terribly despairing yet at times humourous. Toews’ theme is how suicide affects a family. Quite timely as the Supreme Court of Canada is hearing a case on assisted suicide as I write this post. Newspapers print photos of elders picketing with signs reading “right to die”, and “death with dignity.” Sorrows is the story about two sisters: Yolandi, a moderately successful author of young adult novels and Elfrieda, a world-class concert pianist. Despite her success in all areas of her life Elf is so depressed she wants to die, so much so she slit her wrists and drank bleach. Yoli desperately wants her sister to live; she makes the mental hospital promise that they will not let Elf out with out contacting her first. But at the same time she considers taking her to Switzerland or Mexico so she could help Elf kill herself. In Switzerland assisted suicide is legal; in Mexico the meds are readily available. “Did Elf have a terminal illness?,” Yolandi wonders. “Was she cursed genetically from day one to want to die? Was every seemingly happy moment from her past, every smile, every song, every heartfelt hug and laugh and exuberant fist-pump and triumph, just a temporary detour from her innate longing for release and oblivion?”

When asked what was hot about playing the piano, Elf explained to Yoli how she structured he concerts: “She told me that the most important thing was to establish the tenderness right off the bat, or at least close to the top of the piece, just a hint of it, a whisper, but a deep whisper because the tension will mount, the excitement and drama will build – I was writing it down as fast as I could – and when the action rises the audience might remember the earlier moment of tenderness, and remembering will make them long to return to infancy, to safety, to pure love, then you might move away from that, put the violence and agony of life into every note, building, building still, until there is an important decision to make: return to tenderness, even briefly, glancingly, or continue on with the truth, the violence, the pain, the tragedy, to the very end.”

All of this mirror Toews own life. Her father and her sister committed suicide. How can we catch people before their depression ends in death?

 

BAD ENGLISH: A History of Linguistic Aggravation

AMMON SHEAenglish

“I find the tendency to belittle people for verbal slights to be quite distasteful,” Shea writes. “One of the things that is most curious about people who hold themselves up as language purists is that they seem to spend considerably more time complaining about language than they do celebrating it.” His thesis is that if you go back far enough the word or grammatical error that a purist is complaining about most likely had a different meaning before its current meaning.  He has three main ideas: 1) Words can have multiple meanings. 2) Common usage trumps inflexible rules. 3) And the history of the English language is on the side of permissiveness. My favourite section of the book  is on Shea’s take on textspeak: “Complaining about young people’s linguistic proclivities is about as predictable as predictable as complaining about their music. The first recorded use to date of OMG is from 1917.” In 1887 there was a suggestion to use type written marks to convey emotions. Vladimir Nabokov said that he often thought “there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile.

Well written and quite funny, I found it to be an enjoyable read.

You can use funner and funnest, but you should bear in mind that anyone who chastises you for this use is unlikely to be interested in hearing your explanation for why it should be acceptable. These words will grate on the ears of many for some while to come.