December 3, 2013
During the final weeks of my pregnancy last May, I sat bouncing on an exercise ball and had the great privilege of reviewing Lynn Coady’s short story collection Hellgoing for Canadian Notes and Queries. Now, upon first read, I was a bit concerned, because the book was difficult, perplexing, and I wasn’t sure how I’d be able to write a review of a book whose parts I’d found so difficult to understand. But the solution to this problem is always to read the book again, so I did, and found the experience of figuring it all out so utterly engaging that it led to this quite effusive blog post.
And then Hellgoing went on to win the Giller Prize. Who knew? I certainly didn’t as I bounced on my ball. And how interesting to contemplate a book in the before and after glow of such enormous success. How interesting that such a complex, oddly shaped, thoroughly worthy book should win this prize. Such a triumph. I’m only a bit sorry though that my review might cease to matter so much so long after the fact, but alas.
The magazine will be out on news stands… soon? In the meantime, here is a taster with the opening of my review…
Because for a lot of successful novelists, short story collections happen when they’re making other plans, it is worth noting that Lynn Coady has been busy lately. Her fourth novel The Antagonist was shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize; she’s co-founded the award-winning magazine Eighteen Bridges; and more than a few of the stories in her new collection Hellgoing have been lauded already after initial publication in Canadian magazines.
So a reader could be forgiven for wondering if Hellgoing, Coady’s first short story collection since 2000’s Play the Monster Blind, is a literary grab-bag created to follow fast on the success of The Antagonist. And certainly upon first read, the stories themselves appear to be broad in terms of subject matter and approach—no more can Coady be categorized as a regional writer with a focus on her native Cape Breton; her characters range from a child, to a host of young urban professionals, to an aging nun; stories are told in first and third person, some traditionally structured and others with an edge verging on the experimental. These are stories that, as the book’s copy tells us, “capture what it is to be human at this particular moment in our history,” an enormous umbrella, and so the reader might wonder with how much deliberateness this book was curated.
But then that wondering reader would be advised to read deeper. First, because Hellgoing is published under House of Anansi’s new Astoria Imprint, devoted to short stories, suggesting a book put together with an eye for craft instead of umbrellas. Second, because Coady has emerged as one of Canada’s most inspired literary voices since Strange Heaven, her 1998 debut, with each subsequent book pushing her talent in new and interesting directions. Even in the most ragtag Coady grab-bag, there is likely to be method at work.
November 18, 2013
I had the great privilege of reviewing Ann Patchett’s new book, the essay collection This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and my review appeared in The Globe and Mail this weekend. The book was an absolute pleasure to read and reread, and to explore in writing.
“Patchett expounds on her craft with the verve of Annie Dillard in The Writing Life, but with both feet on the ground. She also makes explicit her influence by Joan Didion, revealing in Do Not Disturb that she’s been rereading all Didion’s books, which shows, and works to her detriment because she isn’t Joan Didion, which also shows. Though to be Joan Didion (who, it must be noted, got her start writing for Vogue) is a lot to ask of anyone, and some of Patchett’s best essays are of Didion’s calibre. She may well prove to be to the contemporary mythology of Tennessee what Didion is to California, with her own particular bent*.”
Read my review here!
*I kind of see Patchett as the anti-Didion, actually, particularly when she throws out the line, “I didn’t worry much about snakes” in her essay “Tennessee”. If you’ve read much Didion, you’ll know what I mean by that.
June 27, 2013
Lucky me. I got to review The Dark, a new picture book by Lemony Snickett and Jon Klassen. It was such a pleasure to read and review.
““Laszlo was afraid of the dark,” the book begins. The accompanying illustration shows Laszlo playing with his trucks in a shrinking ray of light, the sun outside the window starting to set. When the sun goes down, shadows fall throughout the house, and Laszlo fends them off with his ever-present flashlight and night light. But when the bulb in his night light burns out, Laszlo is forced to face his deepest fears.”
Read the rest here. And get this book!
May 1, 2013
On Sunday, we had the pleasure of attending the launch for Andrew Larsen’s latest book In the Tree House (which you might recall that I adored). I do feel sorry for literary types who don’t know what they’re missing in picture book launches. The reading is never boring, they skip the Q&A (yay!) and snacks are always excellent–at this one, we got yellow star cookies, rice crispie squares and delicious lemonade. We saw lots of friends there, and had a wonderful afternoon. It was wonderful to celebrate with Andrew, who is a truly fantastic person. If you don’t know his work yet, I’d encourage you to check out any of his books. You will be enchanted.
I also have a new picture book review online at Quill & Quire for In Lucia’s Neighbourhood by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek. While it’s not a perfect book, it’s a remarkable one, and an essential addition to the library of any urban picture book lover.
There is much to love about In Lucia’s Neighborhood, the picture book by Pat Shewchuk and Marek Colek that grew out of the duo’s celebrated animated short film Montrose Avenue. Opening with an epigraph from Jane Jacobs’ The Death and Life of Great American Cities (“The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself”), the story goes on to show how the urban theorist’s sidewalk ballet is enacted every day on one street in Toronto’s Little Portugal neighbourhood. (Read the rest here)
April 12, 2013
When I was pregnant with Harriet and in my third trimester, I started creating something called a “punch list”. Let’s just say I was not the picture of serenity. And as I move toward the final month of this pregnancy, the same old rage is taking hold, and today I’ve channelled it into a post at Bunch about the inexplicable nature of stick figure family car stickers. And I really do think that “fucking Fido Dido” is the best line I’ve ever written. Dare to argue, and I’ll likely punch you.
February 19, 2013
I am very excited to have a review appear in the new issue of The Rusty Toque, because it puts me in good company, and because I get to go about literary criticism at length. From my review of Alix Ohlin’s books Signs and Wonders and Inside:
“Read enough of Alix Ohlin’s new novel and the word “inside” becomes conspicuous, begins to assume invisible italics everywhere you spy it. For example, in the following sentence: By this point, it’s impossible to review either of Alix Ohlin’s new books inside a vacuum.
Ohlin’s novel, titled Inside, was nominated for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and even endorsed by Oprah. On the flipside of all the hype, both Inside and Ohlin’s short story collection Signs And Wonders were the subject of a spectacularly nasty review in the New York Times, critic William Giraldi declaring Ohlin’s use of language to be “intellectually inert, emotionally untrue and lyrically asleep.” Borrowing the “immortal coinages” of a few dead men and employing clichés of his own, Giraldi takes care to define Literature proper and situates Inside far outside its bounds. (I will cease with the italics now, but you see what I mean.)
So the reviewer encounters these books now with an awkward self-consciousness, and, though Inside and Signs and Wonders both deserve to be considered in their own rights, each book as a self-contained universe, the world beyond can’t help creeping in.”
Read the rest here.
January 10, 2013
We received the most enormous pile of packages on Tuesday, including a magazine each for Harriet and I. Mine was Canadian Notes and Queries, featuring a new short story by Caroline Adderson, and Harriet’s was Chirp, with a fabulous short story by Sara O’Leary (!!), and I loved that both of us were experiencing the joy and goodness of short fiction in fine Canadian magazines, and that Harriet gets to appreciate this fine thing from the age of 3. What a lucky girl.
In other news, I was quoted in this excellent piece by Anne Chudobiak in the Montreal Gazette about the CWILA count and lack of female reviewers in Canadian journals and newspapers. And my review of The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier and Francois Thisdale is now up at Quill & Quire.