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Pickle Me This

November 20, 2018

What I’ve Been Reading

No Good Asking, by Fran Kimmel

Kimmel’s novel is a perfect book for a winter’s night, the story of a cold world with warmth at its core. The Nyland family is close to breaking, estranged from each other even as they inhabit the same home. Eric has left his job with the RCMP and doesn’t quite know how to define himself outside of that role, plus he’s straining under the pressure of living with his elderly father after his mother’s death; Eric’s wife Ellie also wonders if coming to live with her father-in-law was the right choice, and she feels distant from her husband after years of disappointment and heartache after multiple miscarriages; plus, she is overwhelmed with caring for her youngest son, who has autism; and her teenage son is in trouble after crashing his grandfather’s car. And into this scene arrives Hannah, a girl escaping a traumatic home situation who needs a place to stay until proper foster care can be arranged. In connecting with Hannah, the family remembers also how to connect with each other, and while the novel is a little too lovely to be true (if only all children in care could have as little emotional baggage as Hannah does…), I forgave it because the other characters’ respective pain and sadness was so true and deeply realized—Kimmel does an incredible job of moving between all the characters’ different points of view. Plus, the scene that flashes back to Hannah’s mother and a trip they took together to the beach (which establishes Hannah’s solid grounding and makes clear that her late mother  was such a good mother) is my favourite one in the book, rich with evocative writing.

*

Difficult People, by Catriona Wright

I am such a fan of Catriona Wright, whose first book was the remarkable poetry collection, Table Manners, and I’ve been looking forward to her fiction debut, Difficult People, whose first story hit me like a brick. “Content Moderator” is the story of a failed academic turned moderator on a social media site whose days are spent having her should destroyed as she is forced to view one horrifying image after another until her faith in humanity is as gone as her soul is, and it’s dark and awful with the cleverest twist. It will leave you disquieted, as will “Lean Into the Mic,” about a stand-up comedian whose personal struggles are seeping into her act in destructive ways, and the piece is formatted as a monologue. A woman’s relationship with a prison inmate takes a turn for the (even more) dysfunctional. “Olivia and Chris” takes place in a not-so distant future where white North American women are outsourcing their pregnancy to Asian surrogates, but take pre-natal yoga anyway for an authentic experience. In the title story, a woman continues to chase corporate success after the suicide of her brother, who had stowed away in their parents’ basement and become a passionate Wikipedia deletionist. A friendship between two women fizzles out when one accuses the other’s stepbrother of raping her. And finally, in “Them,” a woman navigates her distance from a childhood friend/roommate who has come out as transgender, which only exacerbates the usual coming-of-age struggles of friendship anyway. These are stories that are singular, and Wright has such an eye for detail, a knack for character and nailing a particular point of view, and for rendering the ordinary as strange and baffling as it actually is.(This book also makes a nice companion for Emily Anglin’s The Third Person, which I read in October.)

*

All of Us In Our Own Lives, by Manjushree Thapa

And I had the pleasure of reading Manjushree Thapa’s novel All of Us In Our Lives for Quill and Quire:

“First published in India in 2016 (and re-edited for publication in Canada), this is a novel that – as Gyanu is urged to do by a colleague – “look[s] at the world through a wide-angle lens.” Fitting for a story about cosmopolitanism, Thapa employs astral imagery and the connections between her characters create a kind of earthbound constellation. It is an ambitious project, drawing lines across continents, between cities and villages, and between people of different social standings and backgrounds. It works because characters’ experiences don’t map onto each other exactly, leaving room for complication and ambivalence.” (Go here to read the entire review.)

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