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May 2, 2016

Tana French is Ruining My Life

IMG_20160428_074301I’ve been working my way through the works of Tana French ever since my friend Nathalie delivered all of her books to my house on New Years Day in a Waitrose bag, along with a container of soup. (Remember December, when everybody was sick?) Now usually such a loan would constitute a kind of imposition, but I’d been meaning to get into Tana French, and as soon as I opened the first book (In the Woods), I was hooked: “What I warn you to remember is that I am a detective. Our relationship with truth is fundamental but cracked, refracted confusingly like fragmented glass. It is the core of our careers, the endgame of every move we make, and we pursue it with strategies painstakingly constructed of lies and concealment and every variation on deception…”

And this is what’s most compelling about French’s novels, the slipperiness of her first person narrators, how they’re always just clinging to the edges of things, and totally unconscious of how close they are to falling. The subtlety with which she reveals the true circumstances behind her narrator’s carefully constructed reality, the skilful way she manages to reveal all the things these characters would never, ever tell us. The things these characters don’t even properly know themselves.

I’m reading her fourth novel now, Broken Harbour. (One more title to go before I return the Waitrose bag, and then French has a new novel coming out this fall. And then I fear it’s going to be like Harriet and Amulet, the way she went through the whole series, 1-7, boom boom boom, having no idea that Amulets don’t grow on trees, thinking new ones were an ever-available resource, and now she has to wait an eternity for number 8). And the book is kind of ruining my life, because I can’t stop reading it, staying up far too late and just-one-more-chapter. Because how can I not want to know what happens next?

Both my children are currently undergoing sleep changes and bed experiments and we’re all playing musical beds at our house these days, and the last few nights I’ve been awakened twice or three times before dawn. But I really can’t blame my current stupor on this entirely, on my children. Because the real reason I’m so tired, like words-confusingly tired, should-not-be-permitted-to-operate-a-motor-vehicle tired, is that I’m staying up past midnight reading Tana French, and then even once I manage to put the book down and turn the light off, I’m still immersed in its atmosphere, fearing shadows in the darkness. Awake and lying still, alert to barely perceptible sounds. Perhaps imagined ones. And the distinction doesn’t even matter.

May 1, 2016

The M Word: Ever Since The End, by Christa Couture

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This is the fifth in a series of posts catching up writers from The M Word, and finding out what they’re up to now. (Find out more about The M Word and read its rave reviews right here.) From previous weeks: “Kerry Ryan on Wishing and Washing“; “Heather Birrell on Talking to her (M)Other Self”; “Dear Me, by Nicole Dixon“; “Kerry Clare on Motherhood and Abortion.” 

In her essay, “These Are My Children”, Christa Couture introduces readers to her sons, Emmett and Ford, and recounts how she has mothered and related to motherhood since their deaths. Here, she considers what’s changed and what hasn’t in the two years since her essay was published. 

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Between the time I first wrote “These Are My Children” and the time for final edits before The M Word went to print, the one update I made was to the ages my children would have been, if they were still alive (from six and three to seven and four).

I’m thinking of what’s changed in the time from print to now, and the same update is my first thought: Emmett would be nine, and Ford would be, in a few weeks from now, seven.

When asked to consider what else has changed in this time, I worried that nothing has. Motherhood remains a kind of fixed story for me, one I can still replay from its beginning to end. “The End” was the title of the final blog post where my husband and I kept family and friends updated on Ford’s 14 months of life while he was living. And when I think of my story with my children, “the end” feels almost like the title, not just the last page. I picture it a finished book; I picture that book in a bag that I carry forward into each year of my life.

That hasn’t changed.

I have moved from the city (Vancouver) where my sons’ ashes are interred to Toronto. Thus, I visit that site now, so far, only yearly. When I do, I still place my hand on the shared gravestone, still trace the letters, and still feel comfort in close proximity to their remains, and to the part of my body there.

That hasn’t changed.

When I return to their grave, new gifts have been left on its ledge, from their grandmothers, aunts, father… slow changes to the scenery take place.

 

In my essay, I had written of the physical record of my children on my own body. The stretch-marked belly remains the same, but the caesarean scar I’ve found comfort in tracing is almost entirely, to the eye, gone, and increasingly fading to the touch. As it fades, the whisper of the ridge of that scar gets quieter: “I am the window he climbed through, into your arms.”

I don’t mind that this fades. And that is a change.

I no longer, as I had written those few years ago, cry daily for them. When I do cry, it is with less distress.

With as much longing, but less panic. This change I am grateful for.

 

My therapist and I disagreed: he drew a chart, an arc, of grief and pointed to the end, “When is this?”

“Never.”

I argued I will always grieve for my children. He argued it’s an emotion that, like other emotions and like scars, will run its course and fade.

I don’t consider grief negatively. It has slowly become integrated in my body and life, blooming sometimes unexpectedly and otherwise reliably on certain holidays and anniversaries of death and birthdays. Sometimes grief still hurts enough that I gasp for air. Less often, grief still curls me into a ball and I feel blind to anything outside of it. Otherwise, it moves into my chest as a wave and with my hand to my heart and a deep breath, I sway with it until the intensity passes.

I understand better that the intensity passes.

That is a change.

 

A friend’s baby recently died and I realized that while I knew many bereaved parents, I had met them all after one or both of my sons’ deaths. I had not known it to happen to someone I already knew. I was struck in considering the beginning of what will be a very long journey and in remembering how impossible the first night feels. The first night is the worst one. And then the first week, the first month… how slow and dark time is until the first year when counting starts to become harder to do. How I ached, in early days, for time to pass yet hated that it did—that each day passing only took me further away from my children, putting that event and title “the end” further in the past.

“It’s not that it gets easier, but it does change,” I told this friend, knowing too well that there was nothing I could say that would help.

With her son’s death, I was reminded of having “entered a place in which I could be seen only by those who were themselves recently bereaved,” as described by Joan Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking. I felt, when I first saw my friend, seen in a way I seldom do. I found it comforting, a relief almost, for that part of me that remains hidden (against its need), and then immediately I felt regret: I would rather be lonely in grief considering that understanding can only come through such utter heartbreak.

And, in looking at a beginning after an end, I felt relieved for time passing.

 

“What place do you go to for strength?” I was recently asked. If time passing is a place, then that is where I have been since I first wrote my essay. I have been writing and singing and crying and moving across the country, and waiting.

And life has changed.

My boys would be nine and seven. I will always count those years and, occasionally, imagine who my boys would be, and would have become.

I will miss them. I will love them.

And that will never change.

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Christa Couture’s new album is Long Time Leaving. It’s out right now. (Buy it!)  She’s currently on a cross-Canada tour. 

April 29, 2016

Pinny in Summer, by Joanne Schwartz and Isabelle Malenfant

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I owe the most enormous debt to Joanne Schwartz. I met Joanne five and a half years ago when I started attending toddler time at the Lillian H. Smith Library with Harriet, and not only did she introduce me to The Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak (which is one of the best things a person can do for anybody), and books by Eve Rice, and Marisabina Russo, and so many others, but she actually taught me how to read a story.

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Now I am really, really good at reading stories, but my secret confession is that it’s because I totally stole Joanne’s technique. Which involves talking to children like they’re humans instead of idiots, not employing silly voices, instead a clear voice just not loud enough so that you’ve got to be engaged in order to hear it, and (and this is key) that the voice be thoroughly infused with wonder. So that it’s soothing and animated at once—the most incredible balance.

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Joanne’s own books are not so different in approach from the way she reads. She is the author of Our Corner Grocery Store, a fantastic story about a family-run shop , and also of the books City Alphabet and City Numbers, with photographs by Matt Beam, and all of these are books that illuminate the extraordinary in ordinary sights and experiences.

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Her new book, Pinny in Summer, gorgeously illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, fits nicely into that oeuvre, and manages that same balance of soothing and animated, rich with wonder. It’s four little stories in one book, all taking place over the course of a single day—similar in structure to Frog and Toad, or Little Bear. Pinny is a little girl with a whole lot of freedom and so her day contains multitudinous adventures: she finds a wishing stone; she enjoys a session of cloud watching with her friends, Annie and Lou, and then manages to pick a bucket of blueberries before getting caught in a rainstorm. She encounters seagull, then bakes a cake, and it’s around here that it all begins to go a bit wrong—but with a little bit of ingenuity the day is salvaged. And the best thing of all as the sun goes down (and “[t]he sky changed from blue, to a deeper blue, then to dark blue”): there is going to be a tomorrow.

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Schwarz’s prose is wonderful—”the sun was shining again, making everything as warm as toast”—and so nice to put your mouth around. Pinny’s adventures are simple but lovely, and are certainly the kind that will inspire a child to dream of similar things. And the story is beautifully bought to life with Malenfant’s illustrations, with shades of blue and violet, simple drawings enlivened by wonderful texture, shadows and darkness at the edges that keep things interesting.

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And of course, Pinny in Summer inspired us too. Because I dare you not to read it and want to bake a wild blueberry cake like Pinny does. And so we did, even though our wild blueberries were not picked in buckets on blueberry hill, alas, but came from a bag in the freezer.

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All the same though, once we dumped the berries in the mix, the batter turned the same shade of purple as the pictures, which was perfect (and seeing the table set in the image above, you can probably get a good idea of why I love this book so).

The cake was delicious. We froze half for later. And we look forward to spending this summer reading about Pinny again and again.

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April 28, 2016

The Name Therapist, by Duana Taha

the-name-therapistOften the most remarkable story about names is the fact that sometimes there isn’t a story at all. For example: I somehow managed to be named after two Irish counties entirely by accident. “What where your parents thinking?” people have asked me, imagining me as the offspring of two Munster enthusiasts, but I don’t think they were thinking of much beyond euphony. Although my maternal grandmother had a difference of opinion about that, and suggested “Lea” as a middle name to soften the sound, which was how I came to be called Kerry Lea by everybody on my mother’s side of the family. But I think my father’s family found the double names a bit pretentious (and really, their tendency was to truncate single names to a syllable, so that’s not shocking), so they called me Kerry, and in my mind it was a bit like having two selves, Kerry and Kerry Lea being people entire distinct from each other. (Further: carrying around an extra name is very cumbersome, and I ditched the “Lea” altogether at the beginning of grade one at a very singular moment in which my teacher asked me what I wished to be called, and I proclaimed myself a Kerry and so have been ever since.)

So what I mean about names, and what Duana Taha means too in her wonderful new book, The Name Therapist, is that even the names without a story turn out to be stories, and for some of us, those stories are inherently interesting. Name nerds, she calls us. In high school, I owned an A-Z of baby names, just because it made for good reading. I used to collect weird and wonderful names I encountered in books—Beezie from A Swiftly Tilting Planet and Zeeney from Louise Fitzhugh’s The Long Secret were two very bizarre ones I fancied once (and while I didn’t end up naming anybody Zeeney, I named my firstborn after another character in the same book). More often than I ever wrote actual stories as a child, I invented fictional class lists, the names telling me everything about the plots inherent, multiple Melissas, and everything. I made up families too, ones with kids a bit older than me, sisters called Robin, Tracey and Karen—don’t you know exactly who these people are? There was a time in which I wanted to a name my child Ariadne, and about a decade ago, my husband and I had a fictional daughter called Sadie Rose who was very well behaved, and then when I gave birth to actual children, I called them Harriet Joy and Iris Malala, who were not named accidentally at all.

And so for me, reading The Name Therapist was a bit like going to church. Over the years, Duana Taha has established some serious name cred through her column on the blog Lainey Gossip, writing about names, helping expectant parents sort through Ellas and Bellas, and marvelling at phenomena like Jayden, Cayden and Brayden. She continues to explore these ideas in her book, as well as sharing her own experiences growing up with an unusual name, and how her Irish and Egyptian parents’ experiences with their names informed the selection of her name. (Her mother, Mary Veronica, who was only ever, inexplicably, called Maureen.)

The book is a delicious mix of memoir and social science, even better reading than the Baby Name A-Z (which was very good, actually, because it was from there that I first discovered that Zoe meant life, and that Elaine was a variant of Helen). Taha writes about naming trends, sibling matches, “Utah names,” Starbucks names, same-sex couples with the same name, and just what it feels like to be a Jennifer. Taha’s thesis is that a difficult name builds great character, and that learning to be a Myfanwy will make Myfanwy an awesome girl. She’s got a thing against Gords, but don’t take it personally if you are one. She delves into stripper names, African-American names, and why the Baby Name A-Z’s are so ridiculously Anglo-centric. Names and class. Also, what it felt like to be the parent of a child called Atticus during the summer of 2015.

Name therapy is not an exact science, and Taha’s thesis (name as character builder) was disproved more than once throughout her research, but I think that this was never meant to be a controlled experiment. Instead, it’s a book that will be delighted in by most people who’ve ever thought hard about how they were named and why, and what it means to name somebody else. It’s rich with stories, connections, and fascinations. And that I couldn’t write about it without sharing name stories of my own proves Taha’s overarching premise: that names are something it’s hard to shut up about.

April 26, 2016

Authors for Indies on Saturday

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Come and let me sell you all the books. I’ll be at Book City Danforth, and it’s going to be terrific. If you’re not in the neighbourhood, check out the Authors for Indies site to find out what’s going on near you.

April 23, 2016

The M Word: Kerry Clare on Motherhood and Abortion

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This is the fourth in a series of posts catching up writers from The M Word, and finding out what they’re up to now. (Find out more about The M Word and read its rave reviews right here.) From previous weeks: “Kerry Ryan on Wishing and Washing“; “Heather Birrell on Talking to her (M)Other Self”; Dear Me, by Nicole Dixon.

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IMG_8864My essay for The M Word was called “Doubleness Clarifies” (you can read it online here) and I wrote it over four mornings during one week in July 2012 while perched in the rafters of the Wychwood Library—the most terrific vantage point. Harriet was three years old, and it was the first time she’d ever been in childcare—a city-run day-camp managed by a woman I loved who ran the creative play sessions we’ve been attending at the Hillcrest Community Centre since Harriet was one. I’d dropped her off and it was the first time she’d ever been anywhere without me, and I had all this time. Three whole hours. And so I rushed up the street to the library, settled into a carrel, and got to work, headphones plugged into my ears playing Carly Rae Jepsen on repeat.

It was a pivotal time in our family life. Harriet would be starting playschool in September, and I was planning on becoming pregnant again around the same time. The shock of new parenthood had worn off and we’d finally found our groove as a family of three. The pieces of the universe were reassembled and were figuring out the way forward. And now I was putting together an anthology about motherhood, because it seemed I had a knack for telling its truths. And the truth that I wanted to tell about it now was how fundamental choice had been to my whole experience, and how for me the experiences of motherhood and abortion were irrevocably connected.

I’ve written before about learning to talk about my abortion, a process in which my essay from The M Word played an enormous role. “It is only recently, and with a great deal of practise, that I have been able to say ‘abortion’ in conversation without dropping my voice an octave and muttering in order for the word to be nearly inaudible” I wrote in my essay, and that’s the only part of it that seems foreign to me now. I remember writing those lines and contemplating that one day I could possibly end up saying “abortion” in front of an entire room full of people, and wondering whether this was possibly the wisest idea. And yet. It turned out I was braver than I ever thought I could be; and that most people are way less hung up about abortion than you’d ever expect; and that there is nothing more liberating than refusing to feel shame. In understanding that you don’t have to apologize for wanting to know your own soul. Writing that essay, putting my name on it and owning it has taught me a lot about not giving fucks, what it means to be steely, and the kind of example of womanhood I want to set for my daughters. It’s made me into the kind of person I always wanted to be.

It helped, of course, that I was pregnant when the book went out for submission, and that I had a wee baby girl sleeping on my chest throughout the fall of 2013 as I edited the book, and that when the book was launched the following spring, I went to author events wearing the baby on my chest. (The night the book launched at Ben McNally books, I read my piece, and then had to strip down to breastfeed in the fiction section, for I’d chosen a book launch dress with a back zip, perhaps not so wise.) It was easier to stand up in front of a room full of people talking about abortion while holding my cute (albeit very bald, especially in retrospect) baby—I felt her presence shielded me from the possibilities of some criticism, and also legitimized my argument because (as I wrote in my essay): “It is possible that no one more than a mother can truly understand just what it is that a woman who has had an abortion has lost and gained.”

I still think that’s true, though I feel now that the baby was unnecessary. And while she made me feel more comfortable saying the word abortion out loud in public, I don’t wish to imply that any woman has more right to do so than another. But, as I’ve said, for me the experiences of abortion and motherhood are so irrevocably connected. It was the one that allowed me the other.

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Other happenings in the lives of the women of The M Word: 

Myrl Coulter’s latest book is A Year of Days. * Christa Couture’s new album, Long Time Leaving, has just been released. * Saleema Nawaz’s novel, Bone and Bread, was a finalist for CBC Canada Reads 2016 * Alison Pick’s memoir, Between Gods, was a national bestseller and a Globe and Mail Best Book of 2014 *Carrie Snyder’s Girl Runner was shortlisted for the Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Prize * Patricia Storms’ latest picture book is Never Let You Go, which was an OLA Best Bet * Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang’s The Night Children was published in Fall 2015 * and Priscila Uppal’s latest book is the short story collection, Cover Before Striking.

April 22, 2016

Little Red, by Bethan Woollvin

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My big girl blew my mind this week with her “persuasive writing assignment,” about why the book Super Red Riding Hood should win the Blue Spruce Award through the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading Award. “Firstly, it is a feminist book because it has a has a superhero who is a girl,” she wrote in her piece. “Secondly, it is cool and interesting because it has a great superhero. Finally, it is based on a fairy tale and full of suspense.” And of course because the best thing about fairy tales is one can never have too many versions of one, this week we were overjoyed to welcome Bethan Woollvin’s Little Red into the feminist Red Riding canon, a book that won the Macmillan Prize in 2014.

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Woollvin’s illustrations reminded of Jon Klassen’s because while her style is very different, her approach is similar in its spareness, and also in how she uses her character’s eyes to provide emphasis to the understated text (which reminded me a lot in terms of rhythm and sentence structure of Mac Barnett’s in Extra Yarn).

And never ever has an illustrator put side-eye to such incredible use—Red Riding Hood’s facial expressions are magnificent.

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In the author’s biography, we learn that this story was born out of Woollvin’s own problem with the Red Riding Hood Story when she encountered it in childhood: what kind of a moron would be taken in by a wolf in a nightdress? Surely Red Riding Hood was smarter than that?

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And in this story, we see that she is. Red Riding Hood catches onto the Wolf’s preposterous posing as soon as any other smart, courageous girl does, and she comes up with a plan to deal with it on her own terms, no huntsman required. What transpires exactly between them is left up in the air, but we see Red Riding Home afterwards heading home in a wolf-suit—a most terrific homage of Sendak’s Max, I thought. It seems that girls can indeed be superheroes—and they can channel the ferocity of a wild thing too when it suits them.

Girl Power.

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April 21, 2016

Light and darkness, dancing together

IMG_20160421_091515This morning I dropped Iris off at playschool, and noticed pussy willows in a jar on the counter, which took me back to a scary time we went through through just over three years ago now. It was a time in which I learned that it was possible to navigate life even in the presence of one’s deepest fears, and also that doing so sometimes required errands such as an excursion with shopping list consisting only of a bouquet of pussy willows and a tub of chocolate ice cream. I remember that with the pussy willows, I finally began to feel better, and I think I was thinking of A Swiftly Tilting Planet at the time, but I didn’t pick it off the shelf to get the reference.

IMG_20160421_100107But yesterday morning I was walking to school with my seven-year-old neighbour who’s currently in the middle of  A Wrinkle in Time and has the other books in the series before her, and I told her how much A Swiftly Tilting Planet still means to me as an adult. It was the book I picked up in September 2001, after two planes flew into buildings and we wondered if the world as we knew it was entirely gone. I remember the comfort it brought me, the comfort it always has.

Mrs. Murry said, “I remember my mother telling me about one spring, many years ago now, when relations between the United States and the Soviet Union were so tense that all the experts predicted nuclear war before the summer was over. They weren’t alarmists or pessimists it was a considered, sober judgement. And Mother said that she walked along the lane wondering if the pussy willows would ever bud again. After that, she waited each spring for the pussy willows, remembering and never took their budding for granted again. 

I took it down off the shelf this morning to find the pussy willows paragraph, and realize that I absolutely have to reread this book again. And I considered how fundamental it might have been in cementing my understanding of the cosmos, the world.

Darkness was, and darkness was good. As was light. Light and darkness dancing together, born together, born of each other, neither preceding, neither following, both fully being in joyful rhythm.

April 20, 2016

On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, by Cordelia Strube

on-the-shores-of-darkness-there-is-lightEver since 1964, writers whose protagonists are eleven-year-old girls called Harriet have been taking a serious chance on things. How can one actually pull that off that kind of literary homage? But Cordelia Strube, whose many books include the 2010 Giller-nominated novel Lemon (which was one of my favourite books that year) has absolutely pulled it off. Her Harriet, in On the Shores of Darkness There is Light, is a many-splendored, singular creation, and the novel goes and goes and never falters.

Harriet lives in an apartment building called the Shangrila, once a luxury high-rise but now a place housing mostly downtrodden seniors and her family since they lost their home in the 2008 economic downturn. Her mother is trying to keep them afloat through under-the-table bookkeeping, with no help from Gennady, her broke criminal lawyer boyfriend in Crocs, or Harriet’s father Trent, avid cyclist who lives with Uma who he met at the farmer’s market and who is currently in the middle of an IVF cycle. And then there is Irwin, Harriet’s five-year-old brother who has hydrocephalous and whose traumatic entrance to the world brought forth the end of Harriet’s parents’ marriage and all semblances of stability in her life. His health remains perilous, with frequent seizures and hospital visits, ever a source of anxiety and preoccupation for their mother, leaving Harriet with a preponderance of freedom that she exploits for her own devices.

Dumpster-diving for materials for her found art projects, charging her elderly neighbours for runs to the convenience store, and hanging out with her teenage neighbour, Darcy, and losing her scattered grandmother at the Scarborough Town Centre, Harriet has her own agenda, which ultimately involves her dream of escaping it all and getting away to a rural retreat far away in Algonquin Park, living alone by a lake and painting much like Tom Thomson did. A playwright, Strube has an ear for dialogue, and the novel is enlivened by conversation by the people all around Harriet, from confused senior citizens to forthright angry teens, and we see all the information contained within these throwaway lines being filtered through Harriet’s precocious but still eleven-year-old brain and how they come to inform her view of the world. The connections she makes between her father’s obsession with cycling and her stepmother’s IVF cycle, for example, or how a diatribe from the malicious Gennady becomes the title of a sculpture she creates called “The Leopard Who Changed Her Spots.” In a subtle fashion, this is very much a novel that is preoccupied with language, by words, and the puzzles of what things really mean.

As in her previous work, Strube is unafraid to portray adults as a ragtag collection of lost souls and idiots. (This is another feature this novel shares with the collected works of Louise Fitzhugh.) That such folks are responsible for the care of vulnerable people is always a terrifying thing for those people to discover, and On the Shores of Darkness… is about that loss of innocence, the realization that none of us are really ever safe, and that our parents are as vulnerable as we are. “I want you to get better, but I don’t want to be blamed,” admits Harriet’s mother at one point regarding her son’s unhappiness, which is indicative of every adult’s failure in this book to take responsibility for his or her own actions, for their own life. “All of this has been very hard on me,” so say the grown-ups in relation to their children’s hardships, over and over again.

At nearly 400 pages, the novel is long, but swiftly paced and never dull. The bleakness of its considerations are broken up with incredible humour, from the cacophony of the voices in its background to the sheer audacity of Harriet herself, her nerve, all the things she is willing to do and say. There is a humour too in the contrast between the child’s point of view and the world around her, and—in the case of Harriet’s friend, Darcy, in particular—the person she is trying to to be. The sheer naïveté of these would-be old souls. Darcy likes to go on about, “that Caitlin whore,” a friend from her old neighbourhood, and we learn about what Caitlin did to her at Guides: “I was a Sprite and she was a Pixie. That ho bag made like all the cool girls were Pixies….Then the skank fucked up my puppetry badge.”

There is a twist two thirds of the way into the novel that is absolutely devastating and potentially crazy-making, but Strube manages to make the final section work with the introduction of a new character, a young girl who underlines the novel’s Fitzhugh ties  by her determination to be a detective, carrying a magnifying glass and clues jotted in a notebook even. And while the novel veers dangerously toward sentimentality as it heads to its conclusion, Strube shows just enough restraint, and manages an impeccable ending, one that brings its pieces together, steady as the beat of a heart.

April 18, 2016

How books talk to each other

IMG_20160418_204344Tonight I was inspired by Sarah’s #ShortStoryaDay post to pick up “Not Her Real Name,” by Emily Perkins, from her short story collection of the same title. I’d first read the collection when I interviewed Emily Perkins in 2008, when Novel About My Wife came out. In her post, Sarah notes that she was surprised to reread this story and discover that two characters share a name with her daughter, and surmises that it was was with this story that she first fell for the name. She quotes a couple of lines from the story: “—Imagine a couple both called Thea, says Thea. —Isn’t it awful? One of the hazards of same-sex relationships I suppose.”

Now right now I’m reading a book called The Name Therapist, by Duana Taha, which is so much fun and absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. And perhaps I should have seen it coming, going from such a non-fiction book about names and how they define their bearers to a story called “Not Her Real Name” that I might encounter uncanny connections. And while I didn’t encounter either of my own daughters in this story, what I did find was really kind of strange.

I read the beginning of the story, the part about the two Theas, and then went back to The Name Therapist, in which Taha writes about the possibilities of same-name couples in same-sex relationships and how this idea fascinates her as a name enthusiast. And then there was a bit about a guy named Marc who orders coffee at Starbucks and gives his name as “Marc with a C,” which comes back on his cup labelled, “Carc”. Going back to “Not Her Real Name” then to find another Marc drinking coffee:

“Marc with a c. Cody’s seen it written down by the telephone… Marc. Marc. There’s something disturbing about the name. Like Jon without an h. Or Shayne with a y. Marc. Spelt backwards, it makes cram. A real word. This makes it seem like code. Code for what? Cram, cram. Trying to break the Code. OK, so her own name is enough of a liability. She shouldn’t laugh at other people’s. But Marc—its like biting tinfoil.” 

Cody’s own name is referred to in connection the Jack Kerouac novel, Visions of Cody, which she’s never read, she says, and I haven’t read it either. I’m still a bit confused by the story’s title and what it means exactly, trying to break that code. And maybe this is the point. Earlier in the story, Cody’s thinking about a guy called Francis. “You always thought, Francis, rhymes with answers. Which it doesn’t, really. But you’d change the s of answers to be soft like his name.”

And isn’t all that so weird? I am really not so singular but I suspect that I am the only person in the world who is reading The Name Therapist and “Not Her Real Name” concurrently, two works that speak to each other so clearly, asking questions with answers echoing back. A book that came out the other day with a short story collection that was published twenty years ago by an author on the other side of the world—and they are connected in ways their authors never even fathomed. And this is why I love books and literature so much, that it’s all a code, quite beyond us and quite unbreakable. And the infinite possibilities of these connections too, how books upon books can talk to each other, the libraries of the world abuzz with these private conversations.

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