Archive for November, 2010

November 30, 2010

Fiction + Hollywood = A Very Beautiful Love Affair?

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Hollywood films frequently borrow from literary (and sometimes not so literary) writers. This year, everything from Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go, graphic novels Tamara Drewe by Posy Simonds and the Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartfelt memoir Eat, Pray Love and the biopic on Allen Ginsberg, “Howl,” appeared on the silver screen.

What’s missing from this list? A little Gothic romanticism perhaps?

Indie filmmaker Cary Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”) has a new adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre set for release in March 2011 and starring Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland,” “The Kids Are All Right”), Dame Judi Dench (does she really need an introduction?), Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”), and Sally Hawkins (“Tipping the Velvet,” “An Education”).

Since the last good film adaptation of Gothic fiction was Alfred Hitchcock’s take on Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca,” let’s hope that Fukunaga’s “Jane Eyre” doesn’t disappoint. Check out the trailer below.

 

 

The other Hollywood-Book news is James Franco – actor, writer (his short story collection Palo Alto was published in October), PhD candidate in English literature at Yale, MFA student, performance artist, soap opera star and visual artist – is confirmed to host the Oscars with Anne Hathaway who, as far as we know, is only an actress. After hosting the Oscars, Franco will bow out of attending any post-award parties to clime Mt. Everest, end world hunger, negotiate a renewed cease fire between Israel and Palestine and rescue a kitten trapped in a tree.

November 29, 2010

Book Review: Descendant by Bob Freeman

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DESCENDANT
by Bob Freeman

Belfire Press
(August 2010, $14.99, 332 pages)

Descendant, the first in a new occult fiction series by Bob Freeman, is divided into two sections, Book One and Book Two, with a rather complicated storyline. Book One begins with Dr. Landon Connors embarking on a difficult astral journey to contact a demon. Afterward, he has a brief conversation with an unusual companion, setting the tone for a story filled with fallen angels, werewolves, zombies, vampires, and other evil creatures seeking to bring about the downfall of humankind. Dr. Connors, a powerful magician, is informed that he has been summoned to a crime scene at a cabin he owns. The cabin is a way station for the Nightstalkers, a group that fights evil without government sanction. He meets Agents Wolfe and Crowe for the first time (but not the last), and together they try to track down a gargoyle in the immediate area.

Wolfe and Crowe are part of the Paranormal Operations Division of the FBI and frown upon the activities of the Nightstalkers. While Wolfe can cast spells and travel through the astral plane, she is not nearly as powerful as Dr. Connors, which is one of the reasons the doctor has been asked to assist them. Crowe has his own special talents and is one of the undead and he shares his unique tale with Connors. This is the first time I’ve read a story with a zombie for a main character that was not about a zombie apocalypse. They leave Connors to tidy up the loose ends and move on to their next investigation. The two agents travel from one monstrous crime scene to another, usually located in small Midwestern towns with long supernatural histories. They are expected to eliminate the threat, and cover up the real events with a fabricated explanation.

Book Two includes even more complex characters, such as Father Rainey and Mr. Drake. Both characters were briefly introduced in Book One and prove to be critical connections to the various rituals that the agents have been investigating, including a horrific satanic ritual and a meddlesome family that seem tied to everything that has gone wrong.

Until I reached Book Two, I thought this was just a random assortment of paranormal crime investigations by two FBI agents, Wolfe and Crowe. As I continued reading, each chapter revealed another mystery that guides the two agents further into a tangle of demonic scheming. I was drawn into the ritualistic drama leading up to a confrontation of biblical proportions, when all the secrecy is stripped away and a plot to unravel the world is finally divulged. While this novel could be a stand-alone – no wicked cliffhanger or blatantly open ending – Freeman plans to follow it with more in the Wolfe and Crowe series.

Descendant is not a story with an occult theme; it is a fictional novel based on Freeman’s detailed knowledge of the occult, with extensive terminology and background information. Freeman is the founder of the paranormal research group, Nightstalkers of Indiana. He is also a member of the Aleister Crowley Society and the Indiana Horror Writers. More can be found about the author at his website Occult Detective.

Ursula K. Raphael

November 26, 2010

November/December Issue is Here!

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Tired of hanging out with your family? Want to avoid work? Read our November/December issue, featuring the works of eleven poets, four fiction writers, one essayist and a partridge in a pear tree.

Let us know your thoughts!

November 23, 2010

From the ‘zine: In the Heart of Dogtown by Sweetman

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Contributing writer Sweetman’s essay “In the Heart of Dogtown” chronicles her experiences in an abandoned colonial settlement in Gloucester, Massachusetts and is a spooky telling of a town no one will talk about.

There were a few references stating Dogtown was a refuge for freed slaves and those who were suspected of witchcraft. One article I came across said its last inhabitants were prostitutes, aging former slaves and a pack of wild dogs. It emptied or died out by 1837. The houses fell to ruin and it’s never been inhabited since—why?

What little I found made me want to know more. I marveled at why such an interesting place in a destination city on the North Shore was barely mentioned. Despite the poverty of information, there was a common theme in every article and trail guide regarding Dogtown: its trails are confusing, it’s easy to get lost and you should never hike alone.

Continue reading Sweetman’s “In the Heart of Dogtown”

November 22, 2010

Music Review: Fucked Up – Year of the Ox

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FUCKED UP
Year of the Ox

Merge Records, 2010

We all know bands grow up, but it’s usually into whiny commercial whores. That’s why it’s so great to watch Fucked Up somehow, with increasing severity, undercut punk’s simplistic ethos with every release. Indeed, they do it again on their latest, Year Of The Ox, the fourth instalment in their Zodiac themed singles line which has led the band in some of their most audibly absurd travels. At times wholly off the cusp in any sense of hardcore punk, Fucked Up’s past five years, since their debut full-length record Hidden World and acclaimed follow-up The Chemistry of Common Life, showcases a band with an itching experimental side waiting to let loose.

On Ox, the title track “Year Of The Ox” opens with an eerie violin and cello build-up, donated by Toronto orchestra ensemble New Strings Old Puppets, that foreshadows the song’s bass line and classical elements. Tension rises for just over a minute before the band kicks in. Damian Abraham immediately spits out bludgeoning vocals in time with the guitar section’s stomping yet gentle hook that prevails as the thirteen minute song’s main riff.

A slight change in that hook switches up progression five minutes in. When the formula returns after a quick bridge, Abraham’s throat lashings assume an authoritative air while New Strings returns for an epic orchestral bridge. The guitar takes a backseat to elevating classical monstrosity reminiscent of Hidden World’s opener “Crusades” but much more ampler. Zola Jesus’s Nika Rosa Danilova dawns her voice in the latter half of the tune, offering mystical vocal swells amidst the now gritty, palm muted guitar line.

“Ox” mixes the grandiose with the gutter. If Abraham stopped wrenching his guts, then Fucked Up would have to be labelled something other than punk or hardcore. The difference in styles begs the question, can punk be classically epic? Perhaps this is a question that will never be answered by the troupe, but this song’s rule bending consciousness displays how punk doesn’t always have to laugh at itself, but can be seriously measured for all signs of integrity. Fucked Up proves punk is real music, and even an academy-trained ear can recognise that.

The single’s B-side is another eye opener. Unlike previous Year Of’s backed with a couple two-minute punk standards, Ox flips over to the twelve minute “Solomon’s Song” that uniquely features a saxophone line lent by Aerin Fogel of the Bitters. The bluesy intro leads to another low-mid tempo drum beat while a high-pitch guitar lead cycles over distant power chords. The song gets trippy as psychedelic delay effects are laid on the guitars during the choruses. When Abraham rests during the many, almost unnoticed, bridges, the band is a marvel. Bassist Sandy wraths the bass strings during this nearly twelve-minute track that offers low pitch punches, spacey bell rings and tremolo feedback jetting out from hidden crevices, and Fogel wailing on the sax for a broad five-minute outro.

Year Of The Ox is monumental in mapping the evolution of Fucked Up from being an abrasive streetcore band to the scene’s forerunning innovators. Long time fans know they’re still thrashing and crashing, but to an obviously more intricate, grown-up style.

– review by John Coleman

November 18, 2010

Book Review: Inside the Mirrors by Jason R. Davis

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INSIDE THE MIRRORS
by Jason R. Davis

CreateSpace
(December 2009, $13.99, 386 pages)

Inside The Mirrors by Jason R. Davis reminded me of classic horror: scary without excessive gore. This story crawls into your head and makes you leave the light on after you’re done reading. The plot centers on Rob Alleto, a Chicago cop who believes that moving to a small town would lead to a safer environment for himself and his family. When an evil spirit attempts to possess Rob’s neighbors through their mirrors, he discovers that there are things far worse than street criminals. As more people fall under the control of the “Winago,” all the plants and animals begin to die and even the buildings appear dilapidated overnight. Rob soon wishes he had never left Chicago.

The prologue grabbed my attention immediately with a man unexpectedly falling off a silo, but my interest began to fade with the drawn out raid on a meth lab. I understand that the author was trying to give us some background on Rob’s injuries and his decision to leave Chicago, but when I’m expecting horror, I don’t want to feel like I’m reading something from the crime genre.

Quickly after the raid, the story picks up pace with Rob in the hospital thinking about his upcoming move to a small town where he will work as a deputy. His wife, Robyn, along with their son, Jake, take care of packing for the move so the family can leave immediately after Rob is released from the hospital. The first chapter ended with a frightening surprise that hooked me for the rest of the book (sorry, anything more would be a major spoiler).

The following chapter switched point of view to two boys, Aaron and Josh, as they ventured into an abandoned house where a family murder took place. Only someone like Davis, with his great knowledge of horror, could write with terrifying suspense, one where you’re screaming at the characters, “don’t go into the house!”

The next jump in point of view is to a homeless drifter, Coolidge, who sees a grotesque dead man appear out of nowhere. The dead man tells him to go home and continues to stalk and torment Coolidge until the drifter ends up in the same small town that Rob has moved to, which is when the various viewpoints begin to converge in the town of Standard.

Davis, the Director of the Chicago Horror Film Festival, self-published this debut novel and the final copies are riddled with typos. However, the raw editing doesn’t disrupt the flow of the story. Once all the major characters are in place, Davis takes his readers on a thrill ride through hell in the disguise of small town drama. The harder Rob tries to make sense of everything, the faster his life falls apart around him. Lots of people die, and a major sacrifice is needed to stop the Winago from overwhelming the entire town. When you’re done reading this book, you won’t want to linger in front of your mirror.

You can find out more about this new author, and his many ongoing horror projects, here.

-Ursula K. Raphael

 

photo: Elliott Pics

November 18, 2010

Small Book Wins Big Prize: Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists Snags the Giller

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

Johanna Skibsrud’s The Sentimentalists winning the Giller Prize, Canada’s highest literary achievement, does more for CanLit than for Skibsrud. That’s taken lightly though, because the young, thirty-year-old author of a highly esteemed novel will feel the Giller effect of worldly recognition and mass sales in the ball park of 75,000 copies. But even that sounds miniscule compared to the real story behind The Sentimentalists. When this novel was first published in 2009 by Kentville, Nova Scotia micro-press Gaspereau Books, it was in a wiry run of 800 copies.

That’s what makes this year’s Giller so unique in the world of CanLit, and so groundbreaking. The Sentamentalists is the smallest book ever to win the prize, which pays a pleasant $50,000, and beat out two big commercial novels, David Bergen’s The Matter With Morris and Kathleen Winter’s Annabel. Winter’s novel was also nominated for the Writer’s Trust and Governor General’s awards. Last year’s Giller winner was long time CBC newscaster Lynden MacIntyre for his widely successful novel The Bishop’s Man. In its fifteen year existence, past Giller winners include Alice Munro, Joseph Boyden and Margaret Atwood. No one saw the major literary award centering in on something as obscure as Skibsrud‘s novel, an account of her father’s life as a soldier in the Vietnam War.

At the same time, The Sentamentalists contended with other underdogs, including Sarah Salecky’s This Cake Is For The Party and Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting, two considerably smaller books, thought their quantities were at least in the thousands when recommended by the jury.

Once the 2010 Giller longlist was announced, Gaspereau owner Andrew Steeves turned down commercial offers to mass produce copies of The Sentamentalists. “If you are going to buy a copy of that book in Canada, it’s damn well coming out of my shop,” Steeves proclaimed in an interview with the Globe and Mail. He’s since changed his tune, telling the press on Monday that Vancouver publishers Douglas & McIntyre will be producing 30,000 paperback copies by the end of the week, with an additional 20,000 lined up when demand bubbles again.

Also currently hitting the news is a dash of Giller controversy. Ali Smith, British author and one of the three Giller jurors this year, reportedly tipped off a publishing friend during the middle of deliberations about her love of Skibsrud’s novel. The National Post reported that Smith’s friend, Tracy Bohan of The Wiley Agency, may have taken the advice a little too seriously, because she sold foreign printing rights of the book to a UK Random House imprint with a release date set for next March. Giller president Jack Rabinovitch acknowledges the information sharing was out of line, but was done innocently.

Meanwhile, Steeves at Gaspereau in Kentville, Nova Scotia is trying to keep his head above water while pumping out 1,000 hand-printed and hand-bound copies a week, with enough on backorder to keep them in business until e-books really do take over the world. Oddly enough, The Sentamentalists is available online as an e-Book from Kobo. Since the announcement of Skibsrud’s win last week, Amazon.ca has her novel topping the bestseller list ahead of Keith Richard’s Life and George W. Bush’s Decision Points. Beating out famous names like that is no little feat.

November 15, 2010

From the ‘zine: Fiction by Kris McGonegal

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But Here
by Kris McGonegal

Do you remember that game we used to play? “Anywhere But Here” I think we called it. How we used to play it after the days so crappy we didn’t even have the energy to commiserate with each other? We’d each pick the one place in the world we’d love to be. If you don’t remember, its okay, it’s been years. I didn’t remember it until last week.

I remember how you’d always pick the strangest places, like Greenland. Who in their right mind would want to go to Greenland? Or Belize? I swear sometimes you’d make up places just to see if I’d notice. I don’t think I ever did. For my part, I always had one place: the hill by my grandmother’s old farm house. Continue reading “But Here.”

November 14, 2010

Book Trailer of the Week: The Boombox Project

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Lyle Owerko’s photography collection The Boombox Project, released by Abraham Books earlier this month, documents the iconic machine and the people who were central to hip-hop, rock & roll, and punk movements of the 1970s and ’80s. With a forward by Spike Lee, the collection also features commentary from LL Cool J, DJ Spooky, Fab 5 Freddy, and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, among others. What’s great about this book trailer is that it reminded us Daft Punk’s music video for “Da Funk,” directed by Spike Jonze.

November 10, 2010

Live Show Review: A Powerhouse of Punk and Grit, The Delinquints Nod to Early Hardcore

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

The 8th annual Toronto Zombie Walk hit downtown T.O. Saturday, October 23, giving Hallowe’en lovers a chance to try on their costumes a little early. I caught one of the many after parties happening that night, this one at the Bovine Sex Club, where the Delinquints laid down a gritty and captivating set.

The Delinquints’ live performance is a powerhouse of noise. A raw, electric spectacle comprised of singer Jimy Delinquint’s dark, Misfit-greaser aesthetic; Beardo and Sarah’s classic punky-garage, U.K. Subs style guitars, coarsely distorted and frantically chugging away; and Dan Arget’s blistering drums continually cycling through high tempo, four on the floor beats. The Delinquints play heavy, monstrous punk, yet simple and with enough soul to stay out of the new hardcore-cum-metal spectrum. This is hardcore punk in the classic sense: Johnny Cash down on Avenue A. Back alley Elvis wielding stiletto. The Ramones on speed.

Of course, with so much punk history encroaching on their sound, the Delinquints had to pay homage to their heroes. This came with a much more core than Social D cover of Cash’s eternal psychobilly anthem “Folsom Prison Blues.” And three Misfits classics, “Horror Business,” “Hybrid Moments” and, which got everyone fist pumping, “Last Caress.” Belting out the songs at double speed, sounding almost exactly like today’s touring Misfits, all of the Delinquints’ covers were graceful nods to their forebears. This band isn’t out to prove they’re punk; they naturally strut in intimidating confidence.

Sending off guitarist Sarah Hoedlmoser in her last set with the group, plenty of Delinquints favourites were also on hand. These included “Punish The Wicked (With a 2X4),” “No Cure For” and “Criminalise The Poor.” Demonstrating their early eighties street, specifically anarcho anthem meets fifties garage sound, these tracks got local followers chanting. By the end of the set, the Bovine was packed shoulder to shoulder with people catching a glimpse of these punks who know that respect for elders trumps striking a pose.

 

photo: alexandra

November 10, 2010

The Very Writerly President

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Just in time for the Republican and Tea Party sweep of congressional and gubernatorial seats, former United States President George W. Bush’s memoir, Decision Points was released to enormous media hoopla today. Back in May, The Huffington Post invited folks to photoshop their own titles and covers for the book. (Personal favorite: #10) In her New York Times review, Michiko Kakutani says that Decision Points “lacks the emotional precision and evocative power” of former First Lady Laura Bush’s memoir Speaking from the Heart. Between the two, Kakutani says save your money and your time for Laura’s memoir over George’s.

November 6, 2010

Writers Pick Their Faves

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Like that old question asked of Catholic priests, “To whom does the confessor confess?”, writers are often asked to name authors and novels that have influenced their work or, at the very least, left an impression upon them. Here are some links to a few of our favorites.

Julia Glass’s most recent novel The Widower’s Tale was published in September. Not to be pinned down by the enormous task of selecting the ten best novels ever, Glass instead lists “ten terrific works of fiction” she’s read in the past year.

DC-based wonk newspaper the Politico asked writers at a recent PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction gala to recommend books for President Barack Obama. Jane Hamilton suggested Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (but not its more recent companion Pride and Prejudice and Zombies ) while Audrey Niffenegger opted for George Orwell’s 1984. ZZ Packer referred the president to DC writer Edward P. Jones’s novel The Known World and to Toni Morrison’s latest A Mercy. For the presidential daughters she recommended Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor.

NPR’s column “You Must Read This” presents conversations with writers about the books they love to read and recommend. In case you were grasping to fill out your reading list, “You Must Read This” is a springboard with old and new recommendations – including many surprises.

New York Magazine’s the Vulture has the most fun with authors recommending books. Some of our faves include Myla Goldberg’s Tales About Friendship Betrayed and Sam Anderson’s Anti-Franzen Novels.

November 5, 2010

Video of the Week: Book Dominoes

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We’re not going to lie – this video from the Arizona-based bookseller Bookmans is pretty awesome.

November 4, 2010

From the ‘zine: Seeing Through Red

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Seeing Through Red
by Laura Dvorak

A week after I left the heat soared. The roads of Moscow were melting and men were dying, although indirectly and largely in part because they tried swimming the Baltic, bellies filled with vodka. Red vodka was my favorite, the cherry sweetness smooth and cool. The steaming streets of Moscow, becoming stickier in the third week of vindictive temperatures, were sprayed by convoys of water trucks, perhaps the very road-cleaning trucks the taxi crept behind, tires sluicing wet tar early Saturday morning two days before solstice. Maraschino light spilled across blocky buildings along the freeway. As the airport grew taller, I didn’t want to leave.

Continue reading “Seeing Through Red”

November 3, 2010

THIS Reads: NaNoWriMo Killed the Literary Star

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BY LACEY N. DUNHAM

I always find myself frustrated by all the books I’m not reading. My “to read” list is always miles longer than the list of books I’ve finished. Compounding my frustration is that I’m a slow reader. I have friends who readily soar through three or four books each week and, unless all I do is sit in a chair for six hours a day intently focused on one book, knocking through multiple titles only days apart is something I rarely accomplish.

Then again, at least I’m reading, right? In an article at Salon in which she rails against National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), Laura Miller complains that there aren’t enough readers and far too many writers. And while there are statistics revealing that many folks in the U.S. spend more leisure time watching television or using a computer than reading, I don’t believe the argument that there is a dearth of readers in the U.S. People are reading; what people are reading has changed.

In the age of technology, reading occurs outside of books with an increasing frequency, something Miller doesn’t acknowledge in her article (which I “read” online although, because it doesn’t occur between the pages of a bound book, might not count as actual “reading” in Miller-world). Each Sunday I read the New York Times Book Review, in print; I try to read most of the New Yorker each week. When I travel, I frequently pack back-issues of magazines and literary journals I’ve been meaning to get around to and haven’t: Bitch, Poets & Writers, Zone 3, Zoetrope, The Normal School. I don’t work at a typical desk job, but if I did, I imagine that a chunk of my day would be spent reading articles and blogs online. Does all of this, because I’m not purchasing my reading from a traditional bookstore or downloading it on a Kindle, mean I’m reading-deficient?

To be fair, Miller’s article mostly deals with the reasons why someone shouldn’t participate in what she calls the “self-aggrandizing frenzy” of NaNoWriMo: “…while there’s no shortage of good novels out there, there is a shortage of readers for these books.” She’s right: getting published is not half as hard as getting someone to purchase your book, read it, and recommend it to others who will also purchase it once you’ve been published. And it’s true that few authors are commercially successful. But reading novels and writing them isn’t a zero-sum game.

Maybe I’m touchy because I am participating in NaNoWriMo and I take it personally that Miller refers to writing as a “narcissistic commerce,” even if I’m not sure where the “commerce” part comes in. If I’m supposed to be getting wealthy from all this, I wish someone would have told me long ago so I could have the last laugh over my friends who elected law and business school.

Miller implies that Wrimos (NaNo parlance for participating writers) aren’t reading any books or, at least by her judgement, not enough of them. I disagree with this assumption, too. Maybe Wrimos aren’t reading the same types of books Miller would read (she goes on a long rant against self-help books in her article) but reading is reading, regardless of the material. And, unless it’s Nicole Richie’s latest novel, I don’t think reading in all its many forms is making anyone more stupid.

So in addition to all the magazines, lit journals (both in print and online), book reviews and newspapers this particular Wrimo has read over the last month, I also enjoyed Julia Glass’s novel The Widower’s Tale, a story shaped by four voices that represent various corners of modern American culture. Set against the backdrop of eco-terrorism, limousine liberals, and a longing for the past in the face of rapid change, Glass succeeds in illuminating the darkest corners of our hypocrisy and hopes, all with her characteristic tenderness and humor.

Leslie Marmon Silko has been a favorite writer of mine ever since I read Ceremony. The Turquoise Ledge is her first book in ten years and a beautiful memoir that fuses elements of her family’s mixed-race heritage with Native myths and reflections on the natural world. Her imaginative storytelling travels across boundaries of time to share aspects of her life as they are remembered; for example, her first divorce is discussed alongside the eradication of the Laguna language.

University of Chicago historian Thomas C. Holt presents a generational and nuanced portrait of African-Americans in Children of Fire, a uniquely framed history that traces the shifts in culture, policy, and social norms that have defined race relations and institutions of oppression in the U.S. from when the first Africans were sold in Jamestown in 1619 to the election of President Barack Obama. Holt’s history reminds us that lives mired in history as it is lived are far more complex and dynamic than the flattened accounts textbooks would have us believe. I don’t generally read histories but appreciated Holt’s perspective and sharp narration. Children of Fire is a long book but it doesn’t lag.

Finally, confidential to all the Wrimos clattering away at their keyboard out there: Carolyn Kellogg is on our side.

November 2, 2010

Book Review: What Is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman

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WHAT IS LEFT THE DAUGHTER
by Howard Norman

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(October 2010, US$25.00, 256 pages)

At the beginning of Howard Norman’s What Is Left The Daughter, Wyatt Hillyer, a teenage boy recently orphaned by double parent suicides, embarks on an apprenticeship to his uncle Donald as a toboggan maker. Odd, but these two scenarios are more closely knit than you may think. They set up the depressing chain of events that this World War Two era novel follows.

Written as a letter to Wyatt’s long-lost daughter Marlais, this novel’s most striking trait is its focus on tragedy-touched characters. The fatal theme flourishes quickly, once Wyatt is moved from Halifax to Middle Economy, Nova Scotia, a small town in the maritime province where his aunt and uncle live. Here, Wyatt reunites with Tilda, his adopted cousin whom he secretly loves. Also in her late teens, Tilda decides to become a professional mourner – yes, she weeps alongside deceased loners whom no one else will pity. In diverse representation, Wyatt isn’t the only one full-up on sadness. The man Tilda eventually marries is Hans Mohring, a German exchange student of philology at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

And then there is Tilda’s father, Wyatt’s toboggan-making mentor Donald, overcome with paranoia caused by German U-boat attacks off Canada’s east coast. Donald withdraws from the family, gives up the sleigh racket, and starts bunking alone in his work shed like a soldier. On her last night in town before travelling to Newfoundland on a family visit, Wyatt’s aunt Constance, Donald’s wife, breaks the shield and sleeps with Donald between walls tacked up with war stories from the newspaper.

Things climax when a German torpedo takes out a ferry with Constance onboard. With this, Donald’s hate for Hitler peaks; his paranoia proves its worth. He even goes as far as smashing his beloved Beethoven and Bach gramophone records, the ones that always got caught in the last groove before the needle could lift: a broken record repeating its last note over and over again, like the newspaper and radio reports Donald couldn’t ignore.

In one last, foul move, Donald tricks Wyatt into inviting Tilda’s German husband, Hans, to their house, apparently to make peace. Instead, Donald’s rage overpowers wit when he kills Hans with a steel toboggan runner. Daughter takes on a small town, court drama feel for a couple chapters. Donald gets life in prison for the murder; Wyatt receives a couple years for his involvement.

Upon his release, Wyatt slowly becomes part of Tilda’s life again and one night they conceive a child: Marlais. However, Wyatt is once again abandoned when Tilda moves to Denmark with Marlais, and until the point that the book is written—March 27, 1967—Wyatt goes without seeing his daughter for nearly thirty years. The story ends with Wyatt encountering more death (from both important characters and not), old friends, and living his life as a dedicated gaffer at the Halifax Harbour.

Daughter is a bleak and empathetic story, dissolved slightly with pockets of classic, uppity, home front war era scenes. To Norman’s credit, there are many unforeseen right turns that follow constant tragic foreshadowing. From page one, death is on the mind, and the avenues in which the theme is experimented with are not obviously revealed. Like any wartime novel, Daughter does have flavours of stories told once before. Hitler’s encroach on Middle Economy, even though he and his troops are distant, is represented only by a foreign sit-in. When it’s revealed that there are Nazis posing as RMC soldiers roaming around Nova Scotia and that a friend of Wyatt’s was attacked by them, you start to sympathize with Donald, the unabashed defender of reasonable revenge. Although he sacrificed an innocent bystander, he had the right intention. I guess that’s the worth of any good war novel: breaking down misconceptions loaded with controversial politics.

John Coleman

November 1, 2010

THIS Reads: Sense and Serendipity

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BY JOHN COLEMAN

I find it interesting how we stumble over the things we end up reading. What makes us pick up a certain newspaper, magazine or book, only to have it become one of our favourites? In hindsight, I sometimes realise odd licks of fate that initially guide me to a certain trend in writing, only to view it later as something monumental. For instance, I’ll always remember the cornerstone novel in my life being Orwell’s 1984. I first read it on a philosophical whim when I was thirteen years old; I was coming of age and getting interested in world politics, and had heard how prolific was the novel’s satire of modern democratic society, derived from a premonition. I not only fell in love with Orwell (since having read most of his catalogue), but 1984 influenced my perception of the world. Whenever I reminisce on how I forged my left-wing, anti-establishment, down-with-globalisation ways, I often think of how trapped Winston Smith is, constantly evading Big Brother, and how the thought of becoming him forever changed my outlook.

It seems like lately, in a much less momentous way, I have oddly stumbled over more reading when titles jumped out at me for some reason and became some of my favourites. Here are a few that I have tripped over in the past few weeks.

Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
I fell upon Packer while reading an article about the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list in this a few months back. Skimming through the finalists, the words Drinking Coffee Elsewhere pulled me in for a couple of reasons. One: It reminded me of the movie “Coffee and Cigarettes,” one of my favourites, a documentary about rock and roll warlords. Two: Because it sounds so good (I know, but if you share this sentiment, you know what I mean). Thankfully, the witty title of this collection of stories was not a guise to lure in readers, only to have them disappointed at some lame, poorly written life story. Contrarily, ZZ Packer’s style is sensational. She not only attacks identity and gender theories, racism, and other contemporary controversial topics in Coffee, but does it with some of the best writing I’ve ever read. I highly recommend.

Anton Chekhov
I recently reviewed a book of modernised Chekhov tales and while doing so realised that I had never actually read anything by Chekhov. It’s hard to say this as an English major, but true. I had only heard of his prowess – how he is the best Russian story writer of all time and second to Shakespeare in the world-scope of bards. And, I’m pretty sure a few Simpsons episodes are taken straight from Chekhov‘s pages. Needless to say, I had to do some buffing up. What I mainly love about Chekhov’s over two hundred stories (and a number of plays) is the focus on everyday life. Whether drawing characters from working class Russia or writing about important national landmarks, Chekhov had an unbelievable knack for depicting reality in a highly important era.

Death In Venice by Thomas Mann
The other day I was reading the arts section of the newspaper and came across a review of a new opera in Toronto, Death In Venice, based on the novella by Thomas Mann. Once again, and I don’t know why, this title leapt off the page at me. I instantly hit the library. Now, if there is one thing I love about literature, it’s being able to get entranced by writing. Venice opens with its hero Gustav von Aschenbach taking a very Poe-esque walk by the cemetery where he bumps into an eerie stalker. From this, I was hooked. But the story is more than a Gothic stroll; it deals with everything from ancient philosophy, Shakespearian tragedy and the Narcissistic archetype. Check this out if you enjoy quick reads and allusion rich literature requiring an afternoon or two full of research.