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September 29, 2014

May Friedman on Mommyblogs and uncertainty as a valuable critical end

mommyblogs“In trying to form conclusions about mommybloggers—and about mothers—I am reminded of my children attempting to jump upon their own shadows: I am attempting to trap an essentially untrappable form of knowledge. After the initial discomfort and frustration that this inconclusive conclusion elicits, however, I have found that there is much to gained, as a researcher in general and as a motherhood researcher in particular, in looking instead at uncertainty as a valuable critical lens.” –May Friedman, Introduction, Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood

This is a kind of criticism that does not pit the critic against the text, does not seek authority. It seeks instead to travel with the work and its ideas, invite it to blossom and invite others into a conversation that might have previously seemed impenetrable, to draw out relationships that might have been unseen and open doors that might have been locked.” –Rebecca Solnit, “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” 

It pains me to link to this smug and stupid post I wrote in May 2009, just 11 days before my first child was born. When I purported to understand anything in Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, because I really didn’t. And when I tried to pin down mommybloggers, detailing my discomfort with the form, and my discomfort with that discomfort. I thought I had it all sewed up, because I was surer of things then, and I had no idea of the seas of uncertainty I’d be wading into when it came to mothering, motherhood, and issues around motherhood. Five years later, The M Word was to be partly my means of coming to terms with the beauty of the mess of it all—when in doubt, make an anthology.

When, three months after that embarrassing 2009 blog post, I reviewed the book Mothering and Blogging: The Radical Act of the Mommy Blog by May Friedman and Shana Calixte, my thinking had evolved somewhat, but I was still pretty stupid. (This is the curse of any blogger: you are forever presented with undeniable evidence that you were pretty stupid. And that mostly likely you still are.) But I was getting a sense of things—that motherhood and any ideas surrounding motherhood refused to stay put in my tidy pat conclusions, and that there were many women who didn’t want even them to.

May Friedman’s new book, Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood, occurs at a pivotal intersection in my writing life. Outside of my blog, it is my writing about motherhood and my mothering life that has found most resonance with readers, so much so that when a recent published story contained nary a reference to mothers anywhere, I was a bit relieved. And I’ve also been blogging for 14 years this October, which has led to the opportunity to teach the course, The Art of Blogging, at the University of Toronto (whose latest session starts a week from tonight!). In my blog teaching, I embrace and celebrate the messy chaos of the blog form, as unpindownable as mothers are. (You can read my posts with thoughts on blogging here.) I welcomed the reflections, revelations and insights of Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood not just for what they had to say about mothers and mommyblogs, but for the perspective the book provided on the history and implications of the blogosphere with a lens on women (who, as in any history, are so often left out of the story).

True confession: I have an allergy to Foucault, and once they start referencing Bahktin, they’ve already lost me. As an academic text, Friedman’s book stands apart from others that I’ve encountered in that her critical framework serves to transform the familiar into something altogether new, rather than rendering it intelligible. In Mommyblogs and the Changing Face of Motherhood, she examines mommyblogs in the frameworks of hybridity (as a form, of the identities of blog authors, of the experiences of readers), cyborgs (of the author and her text via technology, and also of the complex and nuanced networks created through blogging communities, how mothering is reworked away from being an individuated task) and Queer theory (a movement away from the patriarchal institution of motherhood toward an otherness) to show that mommyblogging is indeed a radical act that has already changed the way motherhood is regarded in the public sphere, and whose further implications are still before us, rich with possibility.

It is as applicable to that mythic blogosphere as a whole what Friedman has to say about “the mamasphere”: “It is precisely because it is impossible to say anything generalizable about the mamasphere as a whole that it is a radical maternal space; not as a result of the activism of individual mothers, but because of the implications of all these narratives coexisting, and the endless unspooling dialogue that therefore emerges.” That lack of generalization doesn’t freak me out anymore, and I appreciate Friedman’s excellent book for reminding me why certainty is anathema to everything I like best about the world, both online and off.

See also: “Mary Pratt, On Blogging, and Preserving Light and Time”

September 25, 2014

How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

moranCaitlin Moran was such a revelation when I first encountered her two and half years ago (precisely here, if you’re wondering), and I adored How to Be a Woman, have reread it since, as well as her anthology of columns, Moranthology, and I even tracked down a copy of The Chronicles of Narmo, the novel she published when she was 14, just because I wanted to read everything she’d ever written. So I wasn’t actually sure I needed to read her new book, the novel, How to Build a Girl, which takes on a similar trajectory to her memoir and long-ago first novel (which doesn’t count, asserts the bio in her new book, which purports to be her “debut” novel). It’s the shape of her own life story—working class girl becomes a rock journalist at tender age, catapulted into awesomeness from an upbringing spent eating blocks of cheese and being a social outcast. So by this, the third time, I sort of thought Moran might have that area covered. I approached the novel warily—but I loved it. To read anything Caitlin Moran writes is to laugh a lot and get everybody in your presence wondering just what is so hilarious. Oh, it’s ribald, brutal, gorgeous and profound. Um, packed with references to Annie. And I guess I’ve read enough Caitlin Moran to know that How to Build a Girl actually departs from her autobiography in a  lot of ways, and I didn’t conflate her heroine with the author. I adored her straightforward depictions of a young woman’s sexuality (she calls herself a “sex pirate”, a “swashfuckler”), the pitch perfect pop culture references, the Caitlin Moran-ish tirades that popped up throughout the narrative, which were familiar—on living in poverty, the power of music, and the power of books to build you a whole other other world. And oh, the parts where young Johanna is so desperately trying to be “legendary”, drunk out of her tree, talking about all the sex she’s ever had because she’s going to be the person who’s had all the sex and who’s to know if she doesn’t talk about it? Saints preserve us all.

My feelings about Caitlin Moran’s work are always connected to myself, the ways in which I’m so inspired by her ideas and her point of view. They’re also tangentially connected to the vitriol she inspires in her critics (for reasons worth considering and otherwise). The personality looms large, but obscures an essential and pivotal point: Caitlin Moran is an amazing writer. Presenting her own story like an every woman’s tale, you too can make it from a Wolverhampton Council House to the Times of London and columnist of the year. Except you can’t. She is so incredibly smart and her work is so rich and funny. The novel is structurally messy in places (tenses are confused, perspective moving in an out of time), but the prose is taut, even the tangents perfectly primed. Her Johanna Morrigan is such a vivid voice, bringing the whole world around her to life. And for once, I disagree with Laura Miller (shocking, I know) that How to Build a Girl “is just not fiction”, has “diluted charms.” Because they overwhelmed me, those charms. I was totally sold. This book bowled me over with greatness.

September 22, 2014

Mess: The Hospital Anthology

mess

I was born in a hospital, and then spent about 30 years not being in the hospital, save for visits to the ER for various frivolous things. And then I started having babies, and a benign growth on my thyroid, and my friends had babies and my dad was treated for cancer, and it seems that hospitals are no longer unchartered territory in my personal geography. Last week, I visited specialists at no less than two of them. And this familiarity was part of the reason I’ve been looking forward to reading Mess: The Hospital Anthology, edited by Julie Devaney (author of the acclaimed My Leaky Body) and David Molenhuis.

But my interest is for the book’s less familiar elements too. I wanted to read about death. And not because I wanted to exactly, but because I am so uncomfortable with how unfamiliar I am with experiences of death and dying, unsurprisingly because, as one writer notes in the book, there is a tendency for doctors and patients alike to dance figure-eights around these ideas rather than saying what they mean. Though it’s not just death—a reluctance to talk about any of the messy bits of bodies and healthcare means that death is actually the most concrete idea we come to associate with hospitals, resulting in much fear and discomfort associated with these places.

The third reason I was interested in this book were the literary reputations of its contributors: poems by Jacob Scheier, Priscila Uppal, Jennica Harper; pieces by Tabatha Southey, Stacey May Fowles, S. Bear Bergman, Diane Flacks, Micah Toub, Sarah Leavitt, Shannon Webb-Campbell and others. One comes to anthologies with an agenda, but the pieces stay with the reader for their writing, and they do here, and not just in the pieces by names I recognized.

The anthology opens with Southey’s essay on her experiences giving birth to her first child on Christmas Eve, a birth whose processes go awry for a time, making its author most aware of the enormous range of human experience enacted all the time within a hospital’s confines, a range the entire book goes to illuminate: birth, death and everything in between. Each section of the book is prefaced by a short piece by Devaney, sections from an essay about a season in her life that was rife with experiences of birth and mortality, mostly the latter. Many of the pieces in the section about death reflect a tendency to leave thinking about it until the last possible moment, to focus on all possible alternatives except the ultimate one. They also show the various ways family members grieve, how these emotions rub up hard against those from medical professionals, the ways in which the dying and their loved ones are failed by the medical establishment at the end of life. How very hard it is to be prepared for death, no matter how many anthologies a reader might explore.

Other pieces reflect the tender humanity taking place in hospitals all the time, how mental health patients are particularly compromised, how hospital stories connect with wider societal issues, what it feels as a person to be reduced to no more than another body in the medical system, and how bodies are stranger and more mysterious than even doctors understand. I particularly appreciated Diane Flacks’ “Pray Tell (or How I Became an Atheist at Sick Kids Hospital)”, a powerful refutation to that cliche about gods only giving you what you can handle. Jane Eaton Hamilton on her experiences photographing deceased infants with their families is also a beautiful and striking piece. David Molenhuis’ essay about the death of his mother, the callousness of the medical professionals who failed her and the hole her loss has left in their family life should be required regular reading for doctors everywhere.

Mess is a little bit messy, which is not unfitting. The range of topics considered seemed a bit too wide, a few pieces not quite belonging, or only tangentially. I also would have welcomed a few more pieces from medical professionals themselves, though maybe asking these to be as well-written as the writers’ pieces is too large a request—if they were writers, they probably wouldn’t be doctors or nurses. But overall, the effect of the book is most powerful. Devaney has made her reputation as a patient advocate, illuminating the human side of life on the gurney, which is perhaps where life is at its most life-ist anyway. With Mess, Devaney and Molenhuis have shone a spotlight where many of us still fear to tread, doing patients an enormous service in illuminating their experiences with the potential of changing our healthcare system for the better, and also creating an emotional and most compelling read.

September 21, 2014

The Mongoose Diaries by Erin Noteboom

the-mongoose-diariesErin Bow is the celebrated author of two children’s novels, Plain Kate and Sorrow’s Knot (as well as a physicist and poet), though the detail that intrigued me when I recently encountered her bio was that she’d also authored “a memoir that no one read.” I have sympathy for such memoirs, plus I am obstinate, so I sought out the book and discovered it was The Mongoose Diaries: Excerpts from a mother’s first year, which is up my alley, but only kind of, because I like to suppose I’m past new motherhood memoirs. But the best such memoirs are not just to be read in the moment, and The Mongoose Diaries (which Bow published under her maiden name, Erin Noteboom) is such a volume. It’s a beautiful, unsentimental and complicated depiction of life with a new baby, all the awful bound up with a pummelling love that is often more pummel than love.

Noteboom’s depiction is complicated because life is—it is implied that her pregnancy has not come easily; she suffers from a painful and serious health condition; and midway through her pregnancy, she faces the devastating loss of her beloved sister, who drowns while on vacation in Mexico. And so her feelings about the impending birth of her first child are mixed up with sadness, fear and mourning, yet oddly apart from these as well (except for her painful insight into her own mother’s loss once her daughter is born and she knows the enormity of what it is to love one’s own child).

The book moves from the beginning of Noteboom’s pregnancy to her daughter’s first birthday, the reflections written as short diary entries that move between the ups and downs (and hilarity and despair) of new parenthood as easily as the hours do. What I found most interesting was Noteboom’s critique and resistance to the idea of the necessity of a mother’s self-sacrifice—as though it’s some sort of consolation that it will hurt her more than it hurts the baby, for example, when she returns to work when “the mongoose” is three months old. It’s refreshing to read a new mom memoir from the point of view of someone with a job as well, mixing up the whole experience—gross stains on pretty blouses, pumping at the office, having to feign a functioning brain on so little sleep. And yes, the guilt, though Noteboom kicks back at the guilt with all the force she can muster, (mostly) confident in the choices she’s made for her family.

The book is sweet and funny, sad and lovely, the diary entries interspersed with perfect poetry. As someone who plans to never ever have a baby ever again, The Mongoose Diaries made me so sad and glad about this at once, and also brought back memories of those tender early days in which I held the pieces of my shattered life, and had to put them back together. It reminded me of Anne Enright’s Making Babies, one of my favourite mothering memoirs, one of those rare pieces of literature which show that motherhood is not simply “a sort of journey you could send dispatches home.” But I am glad these writers do.

I am pleased too by the glimpse the memoir provides into Erin Noteboom’s creative life. The first year of motherhood is usually not an abundantly creative time for anyone, but she notes here and there the fairy tale she’s working on, a curious book about a talking cat. A book that would come to be Plain Kate, which won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award in 2011. Demonstrating that motherhood can indeed be part of the threshold for creative fulfillment and success, that it’s not necessarily the end of the story.

**Note: Iris is obsessed with this book. She walks around the house holding it, perfectly sized for her 15 month old hands. “Baby,” she says. I was reading it on Friday while trying to get her to go down for her nap, and had to hide it under a pillow because she would not lie down until I’d given it to her. She also chews on it. Sorry, Library.

September 14, 2014

A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride

girl-is-a-half-formed-thingOn Saturday morning, I read the newspaper and cried, so overwhelmed was I by despair, three articles in a row—David Gilmour teaching classes again this year at my alma mater; a certain male sportsperson not convicted of violence upon the girlfriend he shot to death; 10 people charged in the attack of Malala Yousafzai, a child shot for the crime of going to school. Not to mention the sad circus of municipal politics in my city, a state of affairs that has led me to abandon Twitter for awhile because I just cannot stand the onslaught of awful, this horrible misogynist idiot whose supposed tumour will never alter my conviction that he’s a dangerous shitty human being who says horrible things about women and whose wife has had to call the cops on him more than once. This man has forever viewed himself as beyond reproach, and now that he’s ill, we’re all meant to finally agree with him? I cannot.

It is also relevant that my baby keeps terrible hours and I’m very tired. But it’s relevant too that I spent last week reading A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, yet another piece of evidence that affirms that we live in a world that treats girls and women like garbage. And maybe it was just a coincidence that I was reading this book as I was sent into despair, a testament to its power perhaps. But I don’t know, because whenever I was asked about, I’d respond with, “The book is…well. It won the Bailey’s Fiction Prize.” Otherwise, I probably never would have read it. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s interesting, yes, but underwhelmingly so. The prose is as half-formed as its girl is, deliberately. Sentences stumped off, broken, truncated. There is no evolution, no progress. Even McBride’s girl’s life, in all its sordid detail, is not abject in anyway—there is cruelty, abuse, the usual litany of terrible things. But I’ve read worse, rendered in prose that stunned me, rather than this prose, which numbed me. Or I thought it had at least, until I found myself crying over the newspaper.

I don’t think I could properly write a review of A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. For a good example of one, however, read Anne Enright’s, in which she so perfectly articulates what I can only throw my hands up and gesture about in regards to this book. What I am reviewing here is more my own reaction to this book, which confuses me. I recoil from it, not because its so difficult. Yes, the prose is difficult to find one’s way into, but once you’re in, you’re in, and there is a peculiar rhythm and rhyme to it that make the pieces fit. Perhaps it was the unrelentingness of it all, that there was progress after all, but it was always going toward the same place and I was longing for any moments of light. What a courageous author who dares to give her readers none of that, to hold back on everything we’re hoping for to save us. To tell the story she wants to tell, and it’s true that I never wanted to put the book down. I don’t want to open it again, yes, but that’s a different thing.

I didn’t like this book. I didn’t like it at all. But I read it and I’m glad I did, because it’s like nothing else that’s going these days, and because there was nothing half-formed about the book itself. (Read McBride’s profile in The Guardian: “I think the publishing industry is perpetuating this myth that readers like a very passive experience, that all they want is a beach novel. I don’t think that’s true, and I think this book doing as well as it has is absolute proof of that. There are serious readers who want to be challenged, who want to be offered something else, who don’t mind being asked to work a little bit to get there.”) I’m glad I read this book because the fact of whether or not I liked it doesn’t really matter at all, and I like any book that shifts the conversation away from that point, such a sad and tired place from which to embark upon a literary discussion.

September 11, 2014

Colville

colville

I don’t know if there is a better exhibit than Alex Colville (now on at the Art Gallery of Ontario) to take your five year old and one year old to, because the latter will be gripped by all the images of dogs, while the former sees her own world reflected in the paintings, but rendered just unfamiliarly enough to warrant another look. We note people and animals suspending in space, captured in motion—horses, dogs, a little girl with her skipping rope. “What do you think’s going to happen next?” Which is the very point. Plus the defiance of gravity. And the strange ugly beauty, hydro corridors, overpasses and smokestacks. The sky’s enormity. We found it fascinating to learn that Colville’s art was so informed by his commute to work, that same stretch of road,  a seemingly dull track. And also the sea pictures, all that blue.

Andrew Hunter’s new book, Colville, designed to accompany the exhibit, gives a marvellous sense of the artist and his power, and just as the exhibit does, of his context as well. In his essay in the book, Hunter posits Colville as a place, and finds connections to that place not just in geography, but also in literature, music, film and  popular culture. As befitting a man whose own life was so often his subject, the book embraces Colville’s biography as well, and more than 100 reproductions of his work. It’s a really wonderful complement to an extraordinary show.

September 9, 2014

Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder

girl-runnerI spent the weekend reading Carrie Snyder’s new book, Girl Runner, a novel about Aganetha Smart, a 104 year old Olympic medallist who was briefly the nation’s sweetheart during the 1920s. It’s a book that has a map inside (!), which shows a lighthouse in the middle of a farmer’s field, so clearly this is a book that is constructed of mysteries and wonder. It begins with Aganetha being taken from her nursing home by two young people who are strangers, but she doesn’t have the wherewithal nor stamina to protest in any way, and besides, she is intrigued by being taken anywhere. From the book’s beginning: “All my life I’ve been going somewhere, aimed toward a fixed point on the horizon that seems never to draw nearer.”

The narrative shifts between Aganetha in the present day, being taken on her strange journey, and her memories of the past, growing up on her family’s farm and in Toronto, where she moved during the 1920s. Notably, the flashbacks occurs outside of chronological order, which isn’t the way this thing is usually done, and makes much more sense as being a story as constructed by a somewhat patchy 104-year-old mind. Plus it’s just pretty interesting to have all the pieces come together in a (seemingly) random order until we realize that Snyder has been placing these pieces like a puzzle, and just how they all fit together proves most surprising, and plotted by a decidedly deft hand.

The novel spans more than a century, and there’s a swiftness to it that befits a story about a girl whose feet made her fly, though I wanted more depth at times, more meat and grit. Because there is so much to delve into—Snyder weaves fascinating stories into Aganetha’s timeline, including her mother, a midwife, who performed abortions for local girls in trouble; the story of a doomed stepmother and her parade of dead babies; the reality of life working at a factory in Toronto in the early 20th century; what it was to be a female athlete at that time; complicated dynamics between Aganetha and her siblings; her dreamy father and his crazy inventions (and just why he built a lighthouse in their field); and also a glimpse into the poverty and desperation of the urban poor. All this and more, and this isn’t even a long book. The pages fly on by.

I first encountered Carrie’s work with Hair Hat back in 2010 when we did the Canada Reads Indies, when the title of her blog was even a little bit true. Since then, she found great success with her second collection, The Juliet Stories, and it’s also a sign of her kindness and generosity that she contributed her wonderful essay, “How to Fall”, to The M Word. And I’m particularly excited about Girl Runner, whose rights have been sold in countries are over the world, that it’s everybody’s chance to encounter Carrie Snyder now. Because the hallmark of all of her books has been their prose, vivid imagery, and characters’ strange tendencies to fly off the ground… and off the page.

So readers, get ready to be dazzled.

September 7, 2014

The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas

thomasI was so pleased to review Joan Thomas’s new novel, The Opening Sky, in this weekend’s Globe and Mail.

““Never explain, never apologize,” is part of a quotation attributed to Nellie McClung, the title of a chapter in Joan Thomas’s novel The Opening Sky, and an admirable motto, unless one happens to be parent to a young person whose behaviour embodies it. Which is the predicament in which Aiden and Liz find themselves.”

You can read the whole thing here.

September 3, 2014

Interference by Michelle Berry

inteferenceEdgewood Drive is a leafy street, the kind of place where one could rake all day, and there’d still be leaves all around. Which is where Michelle Berry begins her novel, Interference, in the fall, neighbours with reason to be out of doors, waving to one another across driveways, while the faces of their houses—all windows and doors—reveal nothing at all. The scrape of their metal rakes on sidewalks just the one thing about the scene that is a little bit “off”, until a strange man appears, a scar right down the middle of his face revealing everything, or at least some kind of brutal tragedy in his past. He’s looking for work, and there’s more than enough leaves to go around. The man helps out, bagging leaves, though there is something particular about the way he looks at the children, and then he disappears without waiting to be paid. And this is only the first of a series of disquieting events that occur to the residents of Edgewood Drive, imbruing everything that follows with a slightly sinister edge.

Sinister coupled with comedy though—not everything in the book is dark. Interference is a novel comprising short stories, and in between them appears correspondence from the school principal, the ladies’ hockey league coordinator, email exchanges. The everyday absurdity of these messages gives the novel an additional layer of ambiguity: is modern life, with its stranger-danger warnings, just one giant farce? Are we to laugh at the residents of Edgewood Drive, with their silly preoccupations and neuroses, for playing into it all? Or are we to actually feel for them?

Claire. who’s countering cancer with a ferocious anger; Dayton, who has fled her cheating husband but not before stealing his money, is aware the past is going to catch up with her soon; Trish, who’s on the verge of a breakdown, her custom-teddy-bear company being services from a big-bear-conglomerate; their husbands, and their children; all of these lives weaving together and apart over the course of a fall, and winter, and into spring. The usual domestic upsets countered with darker things, reverberations from the appearance of the man with the scar—men lurking about school yards, news of a local child porn/pedophile ring; a strange little man who speaks with a peculiar tic who keeps turning up in odd places and upsetting people with lurid images in the pamphlets he displays.

As a native of Peterborough, I enjoyed Michelle Berry’s thinly veiled portrayal of my hometown, with its hockey culture, small town principles, and strange characters. The connections between her character are surprising and illuminating, rounding out the book into a convincing whole. Berry shows that the domestic setting is one worth examining, that home is not always a safe place, that the tangles of family and neighbourly relationships are unfailingly interesting, particularly in a plot so charged with suspense. Though there were times when the drama verged on melodrama, and each chapter seemed to end with a revelation, which felt a little pat. The characters were all so passive too, necessitating the addition of the underlying plot, which seemed manufactured. They were all such great characters—I kept waiting for them to do something. 

But the passiveness was deliberate to the construction of the novel, that these are characters for whom life comes along to do some interfering with, best laid plans interrupted. And still the seasons go on changing, as though none of it matters at all. The one thing anyone can count on: that  the world will go on; there will be leaves to rake again.

August 25, 2014

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny

long-way-homeIt was almost exactly a year ago that Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In came out, a book I was so excited about that I purchased it the day of its release. And I loved it—it was one of my favourite books of the year. All the usual suspense and emotion and I’ve learned to expect from a Louise Penny novel, and then she goes and pulls this literary sleight of hand that was so exciting and perfect. The novel concluded the plot of police corruption that had been building since Penny’s Inspector Gamache series began, and it was with some sadness that I concluded that the series was probably finished, retired along with the Chief Inspector. What a way to go though–it was an absolutely terrific novel.

So I was surprised and pleased to discover earlier this year that there was more Gamache on the horizon. The Long Way Home finds Gamache retired to Three Pines, looking for a break from homicide (though Three Pines really is the last place I’d ever go to find such a thing). He’s uneasy, a bit restless, watchful of his protege (who is also now his son-in-law), concerned that Jean-Guy might slip back into addiction. Concerned for his own mental health too, as is his loving wife, Reine-Marie, who knows that Armand has not yet found the peace he so desperately requires. So she’s unsurprised but also worried when their neighbour and friend, Clara Morrows, comes to him with yet another mystery to solve.

Clara’s husband Peter is missing. They’d agreed upon a year’s separation, after her surprise success in the art world caused friction in the dynamic of their marriage, and on the set date, he didn’t materialize. She hasn’t heard from him at all, which wasn’t like him, and she is fearing for his safety. Having lived in Three Pines long enough, Clara is well aware that no mystery brings with it a simple solution, and that murder lies at the heart of most things, so she’s concerned. As is Armand, and Reine-Marie, and all their other friends, who band together to find Peter. They trace his travels across Europe, to a strange place in Scotland called the Garden of Cosmic Speculation, to Toronto, Quebec City, and then into the wilds of the province. Going on instinct, vague clues, discerning locations from Peter’s paintings, and interviews with people who’d seen him during the past year, they’re able to piece together Peter’s own story, which seems more and more suspicious the closer they get to finding him. Their sense that Peter is in danger turns out to be well-based, and it becomes clear that time is of the essence.

It was always going to be difficult to follow up Where the Light Gets In, which tied up so many loose ends and came together so majestically. The Long Way Home seems to be much less organic in its construction, requiring suspension of disbelief from the reader for the plot to make sense, and the plot itself cobbled together of pieces rather than woven into a whole. Part of the problem is that for much of the book, the mystery that needs solving is less than pressing—the whodunnit is more like, “Who done what?” There’s not even a murder until quite late in the book, which for Three Pines is all-time record, and quite unfathomable. And that the residents of Three Pines would have the resources (time and money) to devote to finding their friend, whose imperilled state is not really apparent, seems unlikely. It’s the kind of book that when you start to read to closely all sort of falls apart.

But. If you’re a fan of the Gamache novels, there’s no way you’re going to miss this one. The place seems so realized, and it’s people familiar—how could you not want to know what happens next? And while the pieces don’t come together terribly well, the pieces themselves are fascinating, revealing remarkable corners of its author’s mind, her preoccupations. If you’re new to the series, then definitely go back to the beginning, and don’t read this one before How the Light Gets In. Which was always going to be a book so hard to follow up.

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