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December 15, 2011

Terroryaki by Jennifer K. Chung

Inside the realm of too much information, you should probably know that I spent a good hour and a bit in the bath last night enjoying Jennifer K. Chung’s novel Terroryaki. And yes, this novel was the winner of the 2010 3-Day Novel Contest, which probably explains its frenetic pacing and shamelessly surfacey plotline, but it’s also about $10 cheaper than your average paperback, its smart design compact enough to fit into your back pocket, and shameless good fun. And perhaps its just the suggestion of its cover, but I came away feeling as though I’d just read a comic book without the pictures (right down to the demon showdown at the end).

Daisy’s sister’s wedding is only 3 months away, but her parents are still disapproving of her fiance for not being Asian enough, or rather for not being Asian at all. ( I enjoyed Daisy’s ever-shrieking mother, and Daisy’s description of her: “She wasn’t a Tiger Mom. She was more like a squirrel”). The family dramas are, at least, taking the heat off Daisy for her lack of drive– she works part time in a teriyaki restaurant, and is a passionless student at the community college. Certainly, Daisy does have her passions though: art and food (and food blogging). She becomes obsessed with a food truck she begins to spot around town with a skull and crossbones painted on it, and the promise, “The Best Teriyaki in Seattle.” The teriyaki is indeed delicious, but the truck has a ghostly aura. It keeps appearing and disappearing mysteriously, and it soon becomes clear that something sinister is afoot (possibly connected with Daisy’s sister’s Fascist wedding planner).

It’s rare to read a novel about a blogger, and Chung has done well in incorporating Daisy’s blog posts into the text, adding an additional  layer of meaning. The other thing about Terroryaki was that it was all about food, and so evocatively so that the book left me starving, which, being in the bathtub, I could really do very little about. But apart from this complaint, I liked the book completely.

October 22, 2012

Heidegger Stairwell by Kayt Burgess

I loved Heidegger Stairwell, a novel by Kayt Burgess, which seems to be an excellent companion to Sophie B. Watson’s Cadillac Couches, another CanLit musical ode which I recently read. Both are about musical fandom and friendship, with cross-Canada road trips thrown in for good measure. Burgess’ novel is structured as a work-in-progress, a tell-all book by music journalist Evan Strocker about his long relationship with the world-famous Canadian band Heidegger Stairwell, though he’s a little too close to his subject, as suggested by editorial notes from the band which are scattered  throughout the manuscript (“No one had an STD. We are talking about something different. I told Evan that.–Coco”). Evan takes the band from their humble beginnings in a thinly veiled Elliott Lake ON–charismatic figures and musical prodigies colliding in high school hallways– to regional stardom, eventual breakup, and then reunion after their six-song EP becomes an underground sensation. It soon becomes clear (or at least Evan would like us to think so) that Heidegger Stairwell would not exist without Evan Strocker’s orchestrations, and we begin to understand that the band itself only exists to give Strocker’s universe coherence and his life some meaning.

I’ve never encountered a character like Evan Strocker in fiction before, a transgender man and an abashedly serious shit-disturber. Growing up in small-town Ontario as Evie, he fit in nowhere except with the band. He started off dating their drummer as a young teenager, and then became embroiled in torrid and/or complicated romances with most of the other band members as time went by. He’s not a protagonist who’s crying out to be liked, or perhaps it’s that he really is, but he has no idea how to go about making it happen.

Heidegger Stairwell was the 2011 winner of the 3 Day Novel contest, and while I thought that last year’s winner was a fun, cute read that was pretty good for a winner of the 3 Day Novel contest, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this year’s is just really good full stop. Burgess comes with university degrees with classical music and creative writing, so she knows what she’s doing here. And it doesn’t really matter how long it took her to do it; she’s created a novel that’s outside of ordinary.

Pre-Order my New Novel: Out October 27


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