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December 22, 2010

Canada Reads Independently Spotlight: Darren Greer's Still Life With June

Darren Greer’s novel Still Life With June is the little novel that did. It won the 2004 ReLit Award,was shortlisted for both the 2003 Pearson Canada Readers’ Choice Book Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award for LGBT Fiction, and was named one of the Top 10 books of 2003 by NOW Magazine. It has also inspired passionate responses from readers, including Canada Reads Indies champion Chad Pelley who previously featured the novel on his website Salty Ink. Pelley writes, “This novel is outright funny and downright grave: not something most writers could pull of so flawlessly.”

From Pelley’s plot summary:

In Cameron Dodds’ take on the world there are two kinds of people: “losers who know they are losers, and losers who don’t know they are losers.” Cameron, a small-time writer, considers himself a loser who knows he is a loser. He works at a Sally Ann drug and alcohol treatment centre, where he steals the file of Darryl Green, a recent suicide case, and gets so engrossed in the file that he translates Darryl’s life into fiction, going as far as befriending the deceased’s sister: a Down Syndrome patient named June, who he regularly visits.

It’s a book about a lot of things: the bonds and tensions unique to blood relations, a truthful and amusing exposé on the life of emerging writers, or even the ways cats have it knocked. But more than anything, it’s a novel about identity, replete with well-crafted and complicated characters, i.e very human characters. Every single character is in denial about who they are, and without giving too much away about the brilliant, page-turner of an ending, Cameron quite literally gets lost looking for himself.

The writer of the blog LiveLiterary called Still Life With June “a gem of a book“, and found it not so much the plot that was compelling as Cameron Dodd’s voice and characterization. My fellow Vicious Circler B. read the book last year, and wrote that it, “thankfully, never becomes too enamored with its own wit; above all it champions the idea that even the most fragmented life can be healed if one has the courage to face one’s deceptions.”

The novel received a critical review in The Journal on Developmental Disabilities, which took issue with Greer’s portrayal of a disabled character, and also with the language about disability used throughout the novel. The reviewer found that this was a novel that got so much right, and moreover managed to cast all kinds of outsiders and misfits in a new kind of light, but casts the disabled character as simple and one-dimensional. Cameron Dodds’ world is a pretty complicated place but June, as all the other reviews I’ve read point out, is “just June”. The reviewer writes that this is “another story in which Down syndrome exists as a metaphor”. And I take note of this review because I think it comes from a different and interesting perspective, is thoughtfully written, and worth keeping in mind.

Still Life With June‘s book trailer is here, and worth a look (though I can’t get it to embed correctly). Cormorant has also posted an audio interview with Darren Greer.

I am heartened by B.’s assessment of this as not your usual book with a cynical main character, attracted to the book jacket, and excited by Chad Pelley’s enthusiasm for Still Life… I am really looking forward to reading it (and hopefully it will be more successful than my last Still Life… attempt).

5 thoughts on “Canada Reads Independently Spotlight: Darren Greer's Still Life With June”

  1. Sheree says:

    I am getting this asap. Interview very good! Sheree

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