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November 10, 2016

How Women’s Fiction Can Save Us All

the-mothersOn Tuesday night I started reading The Little Virtues, by Natalia Ginzburg (which came to my attention in Belle Boggs’ essay in The New Yorker, “The Book That Taught Me What I Want to Teach My Daughter”). Not a comfort read, exactly, although there is some of that, but then the first essay is about her years in exile from the Fascists in Italy before her husband died in prison: “Faced with the horror of his solitary death, and faced with the anguish of what preceded his death, I ask myself if this happened to us—to us, who bought oranges at Giro’s and went for walks in the snow.”

There are some moments when it’s important to face things head on, and to learn from someone who has gathered wisdom from decades of experience.

Women’s fiction doesn’t usually get that much credit for helping its readers face things head-on: these books are escapes, they’re beach reads. Fluffy rather than edgy, entertainment instead of education. Women’s fiction that takes on “issues” is its own sub-genre, and there tends to be a formula as to how these stories are executed, with tidy resolutions. Faced with a tyrant being elected American President, we’re supposed to be turning to weighty French philosophers, right? Or Natalia Ginzburg (which I really do recommend). Certainly not Jodi Picoult.

commonwealthWhat is political? I’ve been thinking about this in terms of the novel I’m writing at the moment, about two women’s friendship over decades. About my forthcoming book too, Mitzi Bytes, which is about a woman who dares to have a voice and what the consequences are—but it’s also more complicated than that, because she’s not entirely innocent in her own downfall. My character is flawed, scared, arrogant and insensitive. A lot of the book is about her relationship with other women—her friends, her sister-in-law, her mother, the other other mothers at her children’s school. And what’s the point of a story like this, I wonder, at the moment of onset of a world like that?

The question of how women get along and the ways in which they don’t is fascinating to me. I suspect that every story I ever write will be about this. And I am also fascinated by how 53% of white American women voted against a strong, experienced feminist and instead for a noted misogynist. I am fascinated by the women who cheer for him exuberantly and claim that he could grope their pussies anytime. Who are these people? What planet do they live on? Could it possibly be the same one as me?

today-will-be-differentWomen’s fiction tells women’s stories. Women’s fiction also sells. And it occurs to me that this genre has the  best capacity of any to help us better understand each other. The authors who are writing nuanced stories about the dynamics of sisterhood are laying out a path of relations. Why are women’s friendships so intense? How come when we don’t like a woman we don’t like her so much. Why is it so challenging to see a woman making choices that are different from yours? Why is it all so personal? Why can mother/daughter relationships be so fraught?How come when we have so much in common (and when so much is at stake) we can be so vehemently opposed?

Part of it is because we’re human, of course. Human beings are complicated. This is awkward, but is in fact one of the best things about humans. While these differences are difficult to navigate, it would be terrifying if we were all the same. Who would push us to be better? How would we know what to rise above? Part of it too comes down to something I’m working out about gender and specificity—a guy in a suit is a guy in a suit, and any guy is going to see that and identify, but women have different hair colours, and different hair styles, and maybe she’s wearing a pantsuit and maybe she’s wearing a dress, and does she stay home and bake cookies or is she Diane Keaton in Baby Boom, and all these differences make it easier to find something to dislike about somebody. Unless, of course, you just happen to dislike guys in suits as a blanket rule (and lately I am thinking there is something to that).

dont-i-know-youIn women’s fiction, I think, we can get to the point of figuring it out. We need authors to consider these questions and write thoughtful and nuanced stories about them (and this is happening now). We need readers too to pick up these books and reading with questions in mind, to allow themselves to be challenged by some of the ideas contained therein. I need to get a better sense of that 53% of white women and what they were voting for or against. The women who supported Clinton but did not dare to admit it beyond the confines of a secret Facebook group need to grapple with these questions too, because they bear some responsibility as well for what happened—women who won’t dare to make Thanksgiving dinner uncomfortable. White liberal women who need to (for the sake of their children, their country) rise up and flip that fucking table, and let their fathers and brothers (and sisters and mothers) know just what has been stolen from them with this election.

And what better place to find stories of uncomfortable dinners and torrid family dynamics? Why, women’s fiction, of course. (And Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections too, which totally falls into the category.)

were-all-in-this-togetherWe need to be reading more authors of colour too to find out what’s happening at the dinner tables of families who might not necessarily look like yours. I’ve been so grateful to those who chose to market books by Brit Bennett and Angela Flournoy as mainstream fiction this past while so that their books came onto my radar. I am going to continue to actively seek out diverse voices in commercial fiction and use whatever platform I have to amplify them, and hope that other white commercial writers will do the same, for its a genre that’s as disturbingly white as any other.

We need to support, and promote too, commercial writers who dare to be overtly political in their work, to read them as thoughtfully and generously as Roxane Gay reviewed Jodi Picoult in The New York Times. Let’s celebrate the commercial writers who are daring to take risks, as Marissa Stapley suggests in our conversation on commercial fiction. Writers need to keep striking that perfect balance between books that people are actually going to want to read, and books that give us something to think about. Books that build bridges, or at least look-out points.

The work commercial women writers are doing has always been important, but perhaps it’s never been more important than right now.

November 9, 2016



One of the most fascinating (if dispiriting) endeavours in which I’ve ever partaken is following Reese Witherspoon on Instagram. Not for the fact of Reese herself, who is perky, inoffensive, and avidly marketing her southern lifestyle brand, but for her followers. These are people who, apart from the fact of Reese Witherspoon, I seem to have absolutely nothing in common. Though you wouldn’t know it at first—click on their accounts, and they’ve got jobs and kids and gardens and they’re instagramming their pie just like I am. But when Reese Witherspoon posted admiration about Michelle Obama this summer, they went ballistic. “Unfollowing.” “I’m never going to be able to watch Sweet Home Alabama again.” “Reese, you’re an entertainer. We don’t come here for the politics.”

We don’t come here for the politics. 

As though politics was a channel on television and not the world we live in, and the streets we walk down (though I suspect these people drive down) when we take our kids to school. It was shocking to me, that decent-seeming people can operate in the world in this way. And not just in this regard of politics as a kind of accessory, something you can put on and shrug off. But that these decent people were coming at it with politics of their own,with their #NeverHillary and hash tagged support for the Republican candidate for president. These ordinary people are the monsters in our midst and they’re so emboldened. Moreover, they hate Michelle Obama. I didn’t know anyone hated Michelle Obama. They all seemed upset about her influence over school lunches. I don’t know. It was so much nicer when I had never considered Reese Witherspoon’s twitter followers, back when I lived in a bubble.

Yesterday the writer Glennon Doyle Melton posted a photo of her and her daughters wearing Wild Feminist t-shirts, ready to rock the vote. The photo received overwhelming support, save for a few people. People who wrote how they really respect Melton and value her work, but can’t believe she is supporting Hillary Clinton. (How? How? How? I would love to sit down for a drink with the woman I heard of the radio the other day who claims she’s voting Republican because she’s a Christian and has morals and values. What are they? How did the Republican candidate align with these? What is it like to live in a world that makes absolutely no sense. Although I’m started to get an idea…)

Somebody told Melton though, why are you involving your children in this? They’re young, this person said. Let them be kids and why concern them with politics? And this morning even more than yesterday I’m considering how abjectly wrong this is. That we have to involve our children. We can no longer expect others to do the work for us, and Facebook posts and tweets just aren’t cutting it—we’ve got to get out there and do the work, and our kids have to see us doing it. They have to know what the stakes are. It makes me think of Advice for the Young At Heart, by Tears for Fears. “When are we going to make it work?” I’ve spent a good decade being bitter at Baby Boomers for the world we’ve been stuck with, but I’m nearly forty—I need to do a better job for my own children.

“I could be happy. I could be quite naive. It’s only me and my shadow, happy in a make-believe.” And it’s not just me and my general complacency. It’s all the people who seriously considered Hillary Clinton the lesser of two evils, the people who are right now on twitter claiming that Justin Trudeau is just as bad—this fucking moralizing has to stop, pragmatism has to prevail. The current Liberal government has to use this moment of crisis to live up to their promises and underline the faith Canadians put in them a year ago. We have to work together with what we want. I don’t want a revolution. Although it’s easy for me to say—I’m not living on a remote First Nations reserve with no access to clean drinking water, for example (or in Flint, Michigan, with no access to clean drinking water) but I’m not sure these are the people who want a revolution either. I’m not sure the revolution some people are looking for would make life necessarily better for either of us.

The idea of politics being something you can take off or put on is continuing to trouble me. I wrote about it last March when Rob Ford died—I can’t put my politics aside. The idea that women are human beings worthy of respect is my politics, and it’s the foundation of everything. And this is what drives me nuts—not the idiots and the white supremacists because these people seem to have an astounding sense of their own identities, but instead the ordinary, decent people (your dad, your husband) who found making the choice between Clinton and Trump a difficult one. Do you know how radical that is? Do you understand how extremist and terrifying it is that any ordinary decent person who was of two minds about it even entertained the notion of voting for Trump, not even to get to the fact that they actually did so? If that were my dad, my uncle, I’d never be able to speak to that person again. All those families who quietly agree not to discuss politics at the table, lest it make anybody uncomfortable. But we have to be made uncomfortable. Look how impossibly uncomfortable we are this morning after a season of trying to be civil and understanding. The daughters of American need to turn to their dads and ask them, How could you do this to us? 

(This is also why we have to raise our children to be feminist. Actively, whether they are our sons or daughters. Do not think the world will do it for you.)

My seven-year-old daughter crawled into bed with me this morning and her entire body was wracked with sobs. She is a bit melodramatic. 14 years of living with an English person has taught me not to get hysterical about things, but Harriet is still little. And I suppose I should be sorry that I involved her so much in what was happening yesterday, that she became so invested—this would be a victory for justice, for women, for feminism. But it’s not the worst lesson to learn, either, that the world is a deeply imperfect place and that the things you dream aren’t everybody else’s dreams. That there are disappointments and set-backs, but we fight on anyway. In fact, we fight on even harder. If it was important to be a feminist yesterday, today it is beyond paramount. We cannot stop.

I’m going to write a letter to my MP and to the Prime Minister today imploring them to see this as a pivotal moment—you must be the thing you promised you could be. I’m going to take action to stand up for the people of Standing Rock, who are defending their precious resources from the likely possibility of environmental disaster. I am going to continue to insist that Black Lives Matter. I’m going to lay down my life on the principal of public education so that we stop having people who fail to understand that #BlackLivesMatter means that all lives matter, and that they don’t right now. All this is a failure of intelligence, of empathy and understanding. I’m going to keep talking back to pro-life numpties on the street and online and using my voice and my story. I’m going to keep reading and learning and asking questions and rejecting cliches and trying to put the pieces together. To understand Reese Witherspoon’s instagram followers even, and where the common ground lies—the world does not need any more othering. I’m going to use my voice and my body and stand up for the things I believe in—which include goodness, the world, and people.

November 8, 2016

We have our cake.

img_20161108_200636I am so sad, but I am thinking about a lot of things that are undeniably true. Which are that if it has to be close, I’d prefer the smart, civilized people be the losers actually, because they can do so with dignity and civilly—and perhaps take a step back and have their points be proven by poor politics in practice. If Hillary Clinton wins, there would still be this simmering rage and maybe this is the way it has to burn out. Things are definitely not okay as they are, and no election victory would change that.

I am thinking that I am so proud of the women who were empowered to stand up for their beliefs and ideas and the prospect of a woman being president. I think there are women who learned to call themselves feminists for the first time. I think that some women discovered why feminism is necessary, and why it will always be necessary. No more complacency—feminism is an urgent matter.

I am thinking of how important it is that liberals and progressives never stop checking themselves, examining their ideas and understanding of the world, and asking themselves questions about what is right and what we stand for. If everything was as we wanted it to be, I’m not sure what the point would be in standing for anything. All of it would cease to have meaning, and so it’s a struggle. If I were not averse to war metaphors, I’d say it’s a battle, even, and not just against other people who don’t think the way that we do but against the worst parts of our own selves.

I am thinking about my daughters, who cut the cake tonight and we celebrated the chance of woman being elected president of the USA. When they went to bed, it was likely Hillary Clinton would be elected, but things have turned around since then, and I hate that I may have to deliver the very worst news in the morning. And yet, the lessons in that too—that none of this is easy, that a better world is not instantaneous, that there are setbacks and disappointments, but these are not the same as defeat.

(Yes, I am thinking that I’m glad I live in another country. I am thinking about when Rob Ford was elected mayor of Toronto on a gutting night like this six years ago, and also about the blog post in which I sought bright sides and one of them was that probably soon he’d die. Totally called it.)

I am thinking that all of this is easy for me to say, as a person who never even has a vote in the matter and only has to live next door to the consequences. For American people who are Black, Muslim, or LGBTQ, I imagine the stakes are terrifying. For people who love their country and are devastated tonight, it all must seem impossible. It does seem impossible. And yet. And yet. We will wake up tomorrow morning, and we will get on with it. Which is not the same as “everything will be okay,” but it’s the same general idea.

There will be cake for breakfast anyway. We’ll see how it goes from there.

November 7, 2016

On victory, cake and my religious zeal


This is Hillary’s victory cake, fresh from the oven. Tomorrow we will celebrate and eat it when the day is through. I made it today as a gesture of faith—faith in sanity prevailing, in the goodness of democracy, and the triumph of human decency. And yes, I made a cake because tomorrow I am going to celebrate with my daughters at the fact of a woman being president of the United States.

“Just think,” I told my elder daughter yesterday. “One day you might have a daughter, and she won’t be able to believe there was ever a time when a woman had never been president.” (Read Jill Filipovic on the men feminists left behind; read Roxane Gay on voting with her head and her heart; read Filipovic’s “Women Will Be the Ones to Save America from Trump.”)

Throughout the last six months, which have been so difficult on a global scale, I’ve found myself turning to my religion a lot for comfort, my religion being: trying really really hard to be a decent human who does good things. Be the change you wish to see in the world. And a lot of my religion does indeed involve cake, and faith: bake the cake, for tomorrow we shall celebrate. And even if we aren’t celebrating, at least there will be cake. (I’m like Marie Antoinette, but only selfish instead of a tyrant.)

But we will be celebrating. My faith is strong. I am practically a zealot.

November 6, 2016

The Mothers, by Brit Bennett

the-mothersOf the many terrible consequences of abortion having been turned into an “issue”—a binary issue at that, a “debate”—is that the narratives have lost their meat. So caught up in the rhetoric, women become uncomfortable with the nuanced reality of the situation. And instead one is either for or against, pro or anti. Abortion is good or evil, a life-saver or murder. And what gets lost in all this opposition are the stories. That abortion is not an issue, but that it’s a fact of so many women’s lives, and it exists on a spectrum with a million degrees of experience.

In The Mothers, the debut novel by Brit Bennett—which has received all kinds of buzz and which I finally bought after hearing it praised over and over again, and I’m so glad I did—those experiences are explored over a half decade in the lives of three young people connected to an African-American church community in a coastal California town. Although it might be more accurate to say say that two of the three are disconnected— Nadia Turner’s mother had been a devout churchgoer, but she’d killed herself six months before Nadia gets herself knocked up by Luke, the wayward son of the preacher. There’s never a doubt in Nadia’s mind about what she must do—she’s got a scholarship to the University of Michigan, and this is her ticket out of a life as narrow and confining as her mother’s was, and she doesn’t want to relive her mother’s mistakes, who had Nadia when she was just 17. And so Nadia gets an abortion, setting herself back upon the path that she’d envisioned for herself. Though there is still a summer to get through before she can finally get away, and she’s forced into taking a job as the assistant to Luke’s mother. Spending more time at the church than she ever had before, she develops a friendship with Aubrey, a girl her age who joined the church after being rejected by her own mother (and fleeing abuse from her mother’s boyfriend). Both girls motherless then, and Nadia has rejected motherhood, and every chapter begins with a chorus of voices, “the mothers” from the church, women whom Barbara Pym would have termed as “excellent.” Unbeknownst to both girls, they are being watched over.

With sweeping narrative maneuvering, Bennett conducts this cast of people through years and great changes in their own lives. We see Nadia moving away and excelling in all the ways that had been imagined for her, and how she cannot manage to escape the decision she made to end her pregnancy, how she carries the experience with her. And how too it dwells within Luke, who fails to support Nadia properly, but then theirs had never been a proper relationship anyway, and as his life remains at a standstill, Nadia’s abortion comes to stand in for all the opportunities he has lost and a source of his pain. And for Aubrey too who becomes close to Luke and has her own pain that needs healing.

Bennett nicely situates the personal against the political, Nadia’s experience with anti-abortion politicking by church members (although not so avidly—these are reasonable people) and also about how one’s convictions become flexible when an unwanted pregnancy is a fact instead of an idea. She shows how a woman can choose an abortion and know it’s the right choice, but still mourn what she’s lost and wonder at the could-have-beens. That an abortion, like a lot of things that happen to people over the course of their lives, is a complicated, multi-faceted thing.

The Mothers was born out of Brit Bennett’s MFA thesis at the University of Michigan, and there were some edges of the narrative that whispered (but didn’t scream) to me: first book. Not in the usual sense—the story is substantial, developed, and written with deep empathy and understanding of the experiences of its characters. This book is solid. But I could also see how this is the work of a writer at the start of her career—some of the set-ups were familiar, the kind of thing that you read in a lot of first books, a seam or two visible. But that this could be both conspicuously a first book and be as ambitious as it is, and not only be reaching but be exceeding its grasp? How incredible is that?

The Mothers is an outstanding achievement, one of the best books I’ve read this year, the kind of book that leaves its reader waiting for whatever its author has coming up next.

(And in the meantime, read her essay, “I don’t know what to do with good white people.”)

November 2, 2016

Fall Books on the Radio


In the “Dreams Come True” file, it has been a longtime dream of mine to talk about books on the radio (books AND the radio—two of the very best things) and so my column on CBC Ontario Morning is something of a wonder. Today I got to talk about Fall Books, and it’s fitting then that their spines are so autumnal. You can listen to my recommendations on the podcast here—I come on at 43.13. 

November 1, 2016

Moms who have desks


Moms who have desks is an idea that comes up several times throughout Mitzi Bytes. My character has an office on the third floor of her house, a space she struggles to justify to herself sometimes and to her family—and not just because her most vital occupation (her blog) is a secret to everybody in her life. Her friends have similar desk angst—one has put hers in a closet, but since she’d previously worked in a cubicle without a door, this represents a kind of promotion. If you squint.

The above image is a screenshot from a feature I read a few years ago about organizing your home—if I recall correctly, it quite rightly irritated readers and was subsequently removed from the feature. But it stuck with me, that dismissiveness about women’s work, about a woman’s place in her home, for its derision of household management (which is totally a job) as an occupation worthy of its own tabletop. When my character takes into account her desk—a hulking solid oak object she found on the curb years and years ago and dragged home all by herself, a relic of a life she lived a thousand years ago—she thinks of this feature. “Moms who have desks.” As though this is a sweet affectation.

img_20161018_102125I thought of this again the other night as we read Spic-and-Span: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen, about Gilbreth—psychologist, industrial engineer, efficiency expert, mother of twelve, best-known for the Cheaper By the Dozen book and movies. She also invented the shelves in the door of your fridge and the foot-pedal trash can. Not only a mom who has a desk, but she was a mom who invented a desk. Her Gilbreth Management Desk (pictured left) was unveiled at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933: “Intended for the kitchen, the desk had a clock and, within easy reach, a radio, telephone, adding machine, typewriter, household files, reference books, schedules, and a series of pull-out charts with tips on organizing and planning household tasks.” (Info from here.) 

Intended for the kitchen, yes, but Gilbreth did not underestimate the tasks on a mother’s or any woman’s to-do list.

Ironically, however, I don’t actually have a desk. I mean, I’ve had a few. Once upon a time I had a desk that my husband carried home for me on his bicycle, which is a form of devotion the likes of which have been rarely matched. And in another lifetime, I too worked in a closet, although it had electricity and a window—but no heating, and now that space is crowded with toddler-clothes-intended-for-hand-me-downs and boxes upon boxes of Christmas decorations. And on one hand I could feel put-out by this, by the absence of a room of my own, but I don’t feel the lack. I don’t need a desk exactly, because I’ve chosen to make the world my desk, table-tops the planet over. My kitchen table, my lap as I lie down on my bed or on the couch, or the arm of the couch on a day when I’m required to be upright. The table in the window of the coffee shop I’m sitting in right now on College Street as I wait to go pick up my daughter from Brownies…

What a desk is is permission, I think, to take yourself and your work seriously, no matter what it is you do. It can be actual (solid as oak) or metaphorical. A surface upon which to take stock, to finally begin.

October 31, 2016

Experimental Film, by Gemma Files

experimental-filmI spent Thanksgiving weekend—as summer turned into fall, the leaves turned into reds and oranges, as everything started to wither and die—reading Gemma Files’ Experimental Film, which was so fitting for the season. I absolutely loved it, and was not the only one to do so—the novel won the Shirley Jackson Award in the summer and the Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic in September. It’s a book about horror movies, and the history of Canadian cinema, and motherhood, and parenting a child with autism, and there are ghosts and it gets creepy, and it gave me bad dreams—which I mean as a testament to the book’s power. I liked it so much, and found it had uncanny connections to Maria Semple’s Today Will Be Different, which I read right after—both protagonists are socially awkward, intellectually brilliant and unmoored in their own lives. In fact, I’d really like to go out for drink with both of them.

I was grateful for the chance to ask some questions about the book to Gemma Files for a feature at 49thShelf. I hope you’ll check it out and enjoy her thoughts on film and literature, the haunting capabilities of both, about how the movie Candyman inspired the book’s structure, the influence of Shirley Jackson, and what it means for literature to be weird.

Read it here. 

October 30, 2016

My Year of Tana French


Last year, we had a rough December. I had pneumonia for almost a month, only recovering a couple of days before Christmas, and then Harriet got a stomach bug and Stuart came down with strep throat. It was not the most fun, and people responded with inordinate kindness. And at the tail-end of it all, we came home from visiting friends on New Years Day to find a plastic Waitrose bag hanging from our door. It was from my friend Nathalie (who blogs here). She’d delivered us a container full of soup (soup!) and a pile of books, which were the complete works (so far) of Tana French.

Can I tell you that if a book of anybody else’s entire oeuvre had been delivered to my house, it would have been an imposition. There are probably at least one hundred books around my house that I ought to be reading or at least rereading, and I am empowered enough as a reader that I don’t need any guidance as to what to read next. But I’d wanted to read Tana French for some time, and unlike most mystery writers, her books are rarely available second-hand (which is saying something). It is possible that I would have gone on wanting to read Tana French forever, but not actually done so, had Nathalie not delivered them to my door.

And so my year of Tana French began, with In the Woods, which is the best one, the most devastating, the most brilliant. Which is not to say that she’s not grown and changed with her books, but instead that I had no idea what I was in for with my first Tana French. I wasn’t even prepared to be blown away. Oh, but I was. Not by the mystery so much, though it was compelling enough, but by her first-person narrator, this broken man who doesn’t know he’s broken and I know it long before he does (and that line delivered by his flatmate when we realize that there’s so much he hasn’t told us. When we realize what he’s done…)

Tana French’s books all stand alone and aren’t necessarily a series, but if you read them in order, each one informs the other, a secondary or peripheral character from the previous books becoming the protagonist. The partner of the detective from In the Woods takes the helm in The Likeness, whose premise was kind of implausible and which was unapologetically inspired by Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. I was reading that one before Valentines Day, because I recall walking and reading it all the way to Kensington Market where I went to buy a present for Stuart, this winter having been uncharacteristically warm, because usually reading while walking in February just wouldn’t be possible. (It was wonderfully to be loving a book just that much.)

I read Faithful Place next, while lying on a deckchair in Barbados, in a single day, even. I think this might have been the one I love most, even if it’s because things domestically for Frank Mackey get sorted in a way that was heartwarming, amidst the murder and creepy basements. I read Broken Harbour in May, and this was one that really messed with my head (and I wrote about it here in a blog post called “Tana French is Ruining my Life”, so titled because I couldn’t stop reading at bedtime and wasn’t getting any sleep, plus the book was giving me nightmares). And then brought The Secret Place along on our vacation in August, and didn’t love it as much as the other books and it veered into the supernatural in a way that was a little bit weird (although it also dealt with girls and power and the power of girlhood in a way that was interesting—and tied into other books I read on that vacation, including The Girls, by Emma Cline, and The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante). But I was still reading a book by Tana French, and there really isn’t much that’s quite like it.

I’d preordered The Trespasser, French’s first book since 2014, and it seems fitting that my year of Tana French should have a new release by her within it. (I was in Barbados when I learned this new book was forthcoming. Imagine my joy: that there would be another Tana French when the books in the Waitrose bag were done!). And it was everything I’d hoped it would be—a return to tradition of the first four books, a narrator on the edge who doesn’t know how close she is, a strange and tricky murder whose solution is not immediately in sight. I love her plots, her characters, her humour, and that I learn insults like “wankstain” (which shows up in two books). I love her complicated women and men, and their aloneness, and the awkward ways her characters connect with each other. I love her prose, her twists, and her portrayal of Ireland post-boom. Can you tell that I love everything?

For a more erudite appreciation, do read Laura Miller’s recent piece in The New Yorker. And it’s been a good year, but can you believe I have to wait two more of them (at least?) to find out what comes next?

October 28, 2016

We Sang You Home, by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett


You might recall that back when Iris was the world’s most disagreeable baby, the only book that held her interest was Little You, by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett. It was a book that was so lovely I actually made the words into a lullaby, and the illustrations were so delightful that we got lost in them (the hole in the toe of the mother’s tights!), and we would have loved it so much anyway even if we hadn’t bowed down to it in gratitude for its suggestion to us that Iris was actually capable of liking things, and that she had superior literary taste even.


And so naturally, we’ve been excited about Flett and Van Camp teaming up again on another board book, even if my children (gulp) are beyond board books. Even if this is a technically another “Welcome, Baby!” book, and we haven’t welcomed a baby in three-and-a-half years. We are Richard Van Camp/Julie Flett mega-fans, and so we snagged a copy of We Sang You Home as soon as it dropped in our local shop. (We saw it in the window, but it was Sunday, and the store was closed. So we went back first thing the very next day!)


“Thank you for coming to live with us,” is a thing I like to say to my children, because I mean it profoundly, even if I do not entirely understand what I am talking about. (“Where did you live before you were born?” I ask Iris. “That was when I was dead,” she answers.) The chance, the luck, the miracle, of these two extraordinary people being created and born and raised to now is something that stuns me every time I think about it. I feel like a passive agent in the whole scenario too—for whom am I to take credit for orchestrating pure magic? I was just a body along for the ride.


In We Sang You Home, Van Camp gives credit where credit is due, giving thanks to our children with blessing us with their lives, and enriching our worlds with their presence. The best thing about the book is its lack of specificity in both prose and illustrations as to how these babies actually got here—this story is suitable for adoption, same-sex families too. It gets at the point that is always universal—that when a child arrives, a parent is born, and the world is never the same.


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