November 20, 2013
I fell in love with Elizabeth Mitchell’s music when Harriet was a baby, and suddenly the whole world was a richer, sunnier place. Her music is the soundtrack to our family life, and I love that with her folk songs she gives us roots, but also keeps us rocking out to covers by Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Van Morrison. I love how she brought us Remy Charlip. “Alphabet Dub” on her You Are My Sunshine album is hands-down the best version of the ABCs ever.
Her latest is an album of Christmas songs, The Sounding Joy. And you can listen to a preview here, the song “Children, Go Where I Send Thee (Little Bitty Baby: A Cumulative Song)”.
More about the album for Smithsonian Folkways:
Grammy-nominated recording artist Elizabeth Mitchell releases The Sounding Joy, ann exploration of Christmas and solstice songs from the American folk tradition. Drawn almost exclusively from the often overlooked but deeply influential songbook of revered composer and anthologist Ruth Crawford Seeger, these songs evoke an era before mass media and the commercialization of Christmas, when sacred song, dance, contemplation, and gathering were prized above all else during the holiday season. Mitchell’s fifth album for Smithsonian Folkways, The Sounding Joy features husband Daniel Littleton, daughter Storey, and special guests Peggy Seeger, Natalie Merchant, Amy Helm, Aoife O’Donovan, Gail Ann Dorsey, Larry Campbell, Dan Zanes, and John Sebastian, among many other family, friends, and neighbors. This gorgeously reverent 24-song collection attempts to save these traditional American holiday songs from an “unmarked grave,” as Merchant puts it in her essay included in the liner notes.
Although the songs presented are specific to the Christian tradition, Mitchell’s husband Daniel Littleton cites the inclusive nature of the project, describing the assembly of musicians as an “ecumenical summit” of sorts, with participants of many religious and non-religious backgrounds coming together happily to bring the songs to life. Mitchell sums up the spirit of the album best in her notes: “However you and your loved ones celebrate the last month of the year, I hope it is filled with the sounds of joy.”
And even better than news of a brand new Elizabeth Mitchell album? Why, that Smithsonian Folkways has provided me with a CD copy to give away to one of you. If you leave a comment on this post by midnight November 30, I’ll include your name in a random draw to win the CD.
**Congrats to Suss. Thanks to all who entered. Hope you’ll get your own copies. It’s a really lovely album.
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.
November 18, 2013
This post is part of the first Humor in Parenting (and Breastfeeding!) Blog Carnival inspired by the anthology Have Milk, Will Travel: Adventures in Breastfeeding, a collection edited by Rachel Epp Buller and published by Demeter Press in August 2013. The anthology looks at the lighter side of nursing. All of its contributors found something funny to say about their days as a non-stop milk shop, even if it was a tough job to have.
This carnival celebrates the craziness that is parenting and asks the question of how we use humor to get through our days, or minutes, or years. Just what’s so funny about being a parent? And why is it so important to make life with kids funny even when it doesn’t exactly seem hilarious?
Please share widely and connect us with other funny parents who are blogging and Tweeting. Use the hashtags #funnybreastfeeding and #humorcarnival along with whatever witty originals you come up with. Those ought to be worth some laughs, too!
See below for links to the other contributors. And, as you might have said to your nursling once upon a time, enjoy the buffet!
Two years ago, someone told Similac that I’d had a baby, even though I hadn’t, or at least not for some time. But regardless, a huge box was couriered to my doorstep containing cans of liquid formula and a great big tin of the powdered stuff. I was kind of outraged, committed breastfeeding mother that I am. My daughter had recently been weaned at 2.5 years, a peaceful end to a pretty lovely breastfeeding experience, and I’ve been trained to be wary of formula marketing schemes. All the same though, I put away that tin of powdered formula deep in the cupboard, supposing we’d have another baby someday. Everybody’s got a secret stash of something. And I wondered what I’d done to make Similac so confused. (Six months later and six months after that, I’d receive new packages from Similac congratulating me on my imaginary baby’s latest milestones, and including coupons for our next visit to Walt Disney World.)
Now imagine a montage, the comedy story of my breastfeeding life. Because breastfeeding comedy? I’ve known breastfeeding comedy. (Note: when you haven’t slept more than 3 hours in a row in 6 months, nothing and everything is funny.) Like when my baby was new and my breast was bigger than her head and she cried because it scared her. None of us blamed her.
This feature is shot on various locations, the first being at the zoo this summer as we sprinted toward the pandas in attempt to avoid the lineups, a jiggly shot from behind with my whole back exposed, me yelling at my four-year-old to hurry up. We got there, and the pandas were sleeping, of course, but at least we missed the lines. And the baby got fed.
All this flurry was so new to me. I never breastfed while mobile with my first baby, instead requiring soft-lighting, two pillows behind my back, a mid-range breastfeeding pillow, a good book and cup of tea in order to complete the transaction. This is also funny. Whereas with Baby 2, it’s not just at the zoo; I find myself breastfeeding on the subway while chaperoning a group of 15 children on a class trip. I’ve breastfed on a ferry boat, on a crowded streetcar, in the car while speeding down the highway.
But let’s go home now, back to the beginning for a shot of me and Baby 1, who at six weeks old decided that she would only feed without screaming if I rocked back and forth while nursing her. I don’t remember how long this went on. It was hard, and sometimes I spilled my tea, but we made do. I remember a Facebook conversation at the time with someone who suggested that if breastfeeding weren’t easy, we were doing it wrong, and how I laughed and laughed. Comedy gold. Zoom in next on my mother’s anxious face as I tried to feed the screaming baby around the same time. “Maybe you don’t have enough milk?” she suggests, to which I respond by squeezing my breast, milk shooting across the room. “I don’t know,” I replied. “What do you think?” Not so secretly delighted because I’d been dying to pull off such a stunt for ages.
It is possible that the second-greatest pleasure of my breastfeeding life has come from horrifying people. This was a huge draw to breastfeeding my first baby into toddlerhood. We even had a plan, my husband and I. We were going to pump like mad with Baby 2 so that I could have a life of my own and also so that we could make breast-milk ice cream. We were going to make breast-milk ice cream so that we could eat breast-milk ice cream, but moreover so we could tell certain people that we had eaten breast-milk ice cream. “It was delicious,” we imagined reporting. “We flavoured it with mango.”
Unfortunately, that part of the movie never got made. The breast-pump we borrowed was fourth-hand, and the motor didn’t work. We tried it twice and it sounded like a dying cow, and so we pulled out the manual pump instead. Not so much for the ice-cream now, but because I had this fantasy of leaving the house for two hours when the baby was nine weeks old. But just as had been my experience with the first baby, I pumped and pumped and nothing came out. My midwife had suggested that perhaps I try pumping while not reading a novel. “You have to be thinking about your baby,” she said, but I didn’t understand that. In my mind, there was a direct correlation between lactating and reading and I didn’t want to know how to do the one without the other.
Desperate times though–we figured out a way to make it work. Picture this: during one Sunday in August, every time the baby fed (which was often), my husband would hook the manual pump to the breast she wasn’t feeding on and he would pump until his hand cramped. And how that milk would flow. He ended up with carpal tunnel, but we managed to fill an entire bottle, and I even got a couple of chapters read, though it was awkward to hold my book with him there.
Of course, when I went out, the baby wanted none of it. This is when the scene transitions from comedy to horror. All that effort was poured right down the drain, and then we put the manual pump away too, the way we always did, and consented to use formula instead when I went out by myself. As though we had control over any of this. I still had that tin of Similac left over from my imaginary baby. My actual baby, however, was as uninterested in the formula as she was the pumped milk, so now I just go out and she cries a lot.
Life is a compromise.
It is terrible and exciting that she starts solids in two weeks.
Please check out these the other submissions to our humor carnival:
In “Laugh or looney bin,” Virginia of Ready or Not Mom shares how laughter (and tears) got her and her husband through two NICU stays and a whole lot more. “Just call me Bessie…on the move” shows some love for a nursing mom without a lot of spare time on her hands.
In “Boobs Are in the House,” Jenny of Half Crunchy Mom shares how her love affair with her nursing breasts was hindered only by the act of pumping, but she found a way to party with the pump.
In “Send in the Nipple Clowns,” Kerry of Pickle Me This shares a story in which a mother who hasn’t slept more than three hours in a row for six months reflects back on the comedy of her breastfeeding life.
And, from Have Milk contributors:
November 17, 2013
Eat It: Sex, Food & Women’s Writing is both a standalone book, and the latest issue of The Feathertale Review. Its editors have assembled a smorgasbord of Canadian women writers who write about food from a wide range of perspectives. Standout pieces are Amy Jones’ “Emotional Eating in the Digital Age”, stories by Jessica Westhead and Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, essays about women and poisoning, Chinese penis cuisine, and a perspective on an eating disorder that I’ve never before encountered, and a fabulous ode to dairy (yum). The book is smartly designed, and even has an index referencing all the foods mentioned in the volume. It made me hungry, but I devoured it.
I figured that A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love by Euphemia Fantetti would be fitting companion read, and I was right. This slim little volume is sometimes about food, mostly about hunger, and makes connections between these and Catholicism. Fantetti’s characters are lovelorn, sometimes desperate, and blessed with a darkly humorous edge. I loved this book’s subtle sweet, sweet subversion.
November 16, 2013
For nearly two weeks, I was reading The Goldfinch, carting it everywhere I went, having to pull out a bigger purse in order to accommodate its heft at 771 pages, my hand cramping as I read it while breastfeeding. I ripped the dust jacket when I tried to tear off a sticker, and then took the dust jacket off altogether when it started getting tatty from the travel. After that, I put the book down on the table on something green, and then the cover started to disintegrate when I wiped the stain off with a damp cloth. I don’t usually treat my books so poorly, but The Goldfinch is so large and solid, a piece of furniture nearly. It has presence, is lived with, is experienced. And it is interesting to think about my wear-and-tear on the book when I consider how much of the book is about what time does to physical objects. The Goldfinch is about its thingness just as much as it is about its text.
Part of this is because The Goldfinch is an event, a new Donna Tartt novel being a once-in-a-decade experience. I bought it the day it came out and for once got to be reading what everyone else was reading, which was fun as we marked our progress on Twitter. The book has been receiving mixed reviews, but those which are positive are ecstatic, and everybody on my Twitter feed seemed to be enjoying it as much as I was.
In some ways, my destruction of The Goldfinch is a tragedy, because the book itself is exquisitely designed, with thin pages and a subtly beautiful cover, though the cover seems to anticipate my treatment of it–food stains aside, the wear seems like part of the design. And on the flyleaf is a rendering of “The Goldfinch” by Carel Fabritus, a 17th century Dutch painter. It’s this painting which the book revolves around, this story of Theodore Decker whose own live turns on an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which killed and his mother and many others when he is thirteen years old.
The novel is a curious mix of old and new, strangely so at times. Though perhaps it’s just me who is surprised when a novel so steeped in longing and nostalgia refers back to a time in which email and emojis were a thing. What a thing to consider–how the present becomes the past, and how the past devours the future so that we look back and it’s there. Theo is writing his story from Amsterdam a decade and a half later, where something is desperately wrong and we’re not quite sure what, and then we forget about the present day altogether as Theo takes us back to the museum, and the explosion: “when I lost [my mother] I lost sight of any landmark that might have led me to someplace happier, to some more populated or congenial life.”
Instead, he is traumatized by the incident, and left alone, by default falling into the care of a friend’s wealthy family. Compounding his trauma is fear of consequences to his actions directly following the explosion: listening to the curious instructions of a dying man, Theo removes “The Goldfinch” painting from the disaster scene, takes it with him, keeps it hidden. He tells this secret to no one, but lives in fear of its discovery. He tells us that he couldn’t tell anyone what he’d done for fear of repercussions–his whole life is unstable, he’s terrified of being thrown into foster care, he imagines being imprisoned for theft, and all this seems illogical because he’s so young and because of what happened. Surely her would have been forgiven? But I wonder now if really Theo didn’t tell because he knew that if he did, it would be taken from him.
The unreliability of Theo as a narrator, apparent or otherwise, as one of the book’s most fascinating features. He is a compelling storyteller, his story utterly gripping, and yet I was quite far into the book before I remembered that Theo had been at the museum with his mother only because he’d been suspended from school after some wrong-doing. What had he done, I wondered? I went back to check, and then realized that Theo claimed that he doesn’t even know, that it may have been fuss over a cigarette. He brushes past this. Situating himself as the hero of his story, or at least its victim, but it is remarked that Theo knows what to say and do to impress his friends’ parents, that perhaps Theo is not entirely genuine.
But these thoughts onto turn up here and there. Mostly we’re caught up in the twists and turns of his life, how his estranged father arrives back on the scene and whisks Theo away to live in Las Vegas where he’s making a living as a shady dealer. Here, Theo befriends the inimitable Boris, similarly lost, neglected, and prone to trouble. The two friends get up to trouble of their own, with drugs and petty theft, but Boris provides Theo with the first stable force he’s had in his life since he lost his mother.
The plot turns on coincidence, tragedy, collision and fireworks. There’s nothing subtle about this structure, though this is a book that is very aware of itself–Theo remarks upon the power of misdirection, the force of coincidence and chance. He ends up back in New York living with Hobie, a friend connected with the dying man he’d encountered in the museum. The friend deals in antiques, repair and reconstruction, and Theo begins working for him, making a racket selling forged pieces. He’s still hiding his copy of The Goldfinch, hiding this secret as desperately as he hides the painting itself.
Meanwhile (and this is a novel with a whole lot of meanwhile), he’s long been in love with a red-haired girl who’d been with the dying man and shares his experience of the tragedy, he is very addicted to drugs, he continues the orbit the world of his wealthy childhood friend. That friend’s mother has turned into a Miss Havisham figure after her own tragedy, the red-haired girl is called Pippa, and Hobie is a kind of Joe Gargery. The only explicit Dickens reference here is to Oliver Twist, however, the Artful Dodger in particular, in relation to Boris, though Tartt is subtly trickery here, and I think we’re meant to wonder if Theo himself is just how artfully dodgy in his own right.
I really liked Zsuzsi Gartner’s critical review of this novel from a few weeks back, because engaging with it even if only to disagree made me think deeper about The Goldfinch. She is also terrifically right about that Velveteen Rabbit moment, but I think Tartt is far too capable and tricky a novelist for us to write these off as shortcomings. The substance of the book is as such that its shortcomings seem inherent to its very fabric, and one can read into them to discover the novel’s deeper meaning. I am not sure that Tartt intended to write a realist novel, as Gartner asserts. Tartt, in reference to art, considers paintings which appear realist from afar, but upon closer look are constructed of dots and brush strokes–but then what isn’t? (It’s also worth noting that novels which insist on their novelness are the kind that I love best.)
It occurred to me that this novel so steeped in its thingness and in things was terribly complementary to Pinterest, so I created a pinterest board for The Goldfinch. Definitely a stupid way to waste a previous hour of Baby’ s nap on Thursday afternoon, but it turned out not so much. It was fun to go through the book again in search of things to pin and to include accompanying text, and an excellent way to further engage with the text–it turns out that 771 pages just weren’t enough for me.
November 16, 2013
On June 23 1985, Air India Flight 182 was blown up by a bomb, exploding over the Atlantic Ocean in Irish airspace. 329 people were killed, 268 of them Canadians, making this the largest mass-murder in Canadian history. And 82 of the dead were children under the age of 13.
In Children of Air India: Un/Authorized Exhibits and Interjections, Renee Sarojini Saklikar injects life and story into an event whose devastation has been dulled by time and newspaper headlines. An event that should have become part of the national consciousness, but never did, Canadians–because of racism, xenophobia, and general ignorance–choosing to regard it as another country’s tragedy, the product of another’s country’s troubles.
The collection is a combination of found object piece, memoir and imaginative flight. Saklikar’s sources include official documents and reports from the Air India Inquiry, books on the subject, interviews, and her own experience as one whose life was touched by the tragedy–her aunt and uncle her among those killed on Flight 182, flying home to India from Canada, having changed their travel plans in order to get back to their son.
In the book, Saklikar takes on the persona, N, to elegize the events of June 23 1985, and the individuals who were lost–in particular those 82 children. These poems are harrowing to read, unimaginable facts from coroners’ reports of the trauma suffered by bodies of the dead, and also in the lives she imagines as lived by these people who in death were reduced to numbers:
We are mother-father-daughter-daughter
three of us India-born, one of us Canada-made,
each grain of each minute, cascading days
the 1960s rush into the 1970s rush into a new decade
no signs come to us
that we might one day end, no portents accumulate
to brush against our skin…
(from “Exhibit (1985): the unknown family”)
In addition to these biographies, Saklikar considers N’s own grief, her family’s response to the tragedy, and also the circumstances behind the RCMP’s famously bungled work on the case, both before and after the incident. Further, she evokes the idea and ideal of Canada, showing how each is tarnished by Air India Flight 182, and sets Air India alongside other shameful components of our national identity, including colonialism and inaction surrounding missing and murdered women.
This poetry collection is beautiful, devastating, difficult and important. Difficult in terms of subject matter, but yet the narrative was so compelling, N herself leading the reader through so many lives and stories, plot and intrigue. Throughout, I needed to take short pauses because it all was a little too much, but then I’d pick the book right up again, the poetry accessible and fascinating, rich with history and voices.
November 15, 2013
(This one is cross-posted to Bunch Family!)
My favourite picture books are the ones whose stories escape their pages, books that live on in the imagination long after they’ve been returned to the shelf, books which inspire their readers to get excited and make things. And such books are perfect for these days when it’s a little too cold outside, and you’re looking for a fun diversion or two.
How To by Julie Morstad: It’s been nominated for a 2013 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature Illustration, and no wonder. Morstad’s How To is a guide to life, albeit life lived whimsically, with a great deal of imagination and style. It doesn’t inspire a specific craft project, but instead is the launching pad for several (including chalk-drawings, stilts, butterfly wings) and also to a whole new way of looking at the world.
The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Larsen and Irene Luxbacher: This is a really wonderful story about the connection between a young girl and her grandfather who has had to leave his garden behind to move into an apartment. Together, Theo and her grandfather create an imaginary garden to fill the void, a painted picture on a large piece of canvas. I love this book because there’s something going on beneath the surface–just what is the grandfather’s story, I wonder?–but I also love that just about every child who reads it is compelled to pick up some crayons and paper and make an imaginary garden of her own.
Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman: I memorized this book when I was seven years old, and now my daughter knows it too. And she has been inspired to play pirates by it, as well as to fashion a robot head out of tinfoil and a cardboard box. (“I’m mad about boxes! Boxes are fun! No one will guess who we are when it’s done.”) Jillian Jiggs’ imagination is quite contagious, and I also remember that its follow-up, The Wonderful Pigs of Jillian Jiggs, came with instructions for making little stuffed pigs of one’s own, with button noses and everything.
The Stone Hatchlings by Sarah Tsiang and Qin Leng: This book is the follow-up to the acclaimed A Flock of Shoes, the story of a little girl who finds some eggs and decides she is going to hatch them into birds. Never mind that Abby’s mother tells her that the eggs are just stones–with the aid of some paint and a brush, Abby transforms those eggs into beautiful birds who are alive in her imagination. We’ve had three egg-shaped stones nesting in a pile of silk scarves ever since this book came into our lives, and I don’t doubt that they’ll hatch one day.
Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen: My love for this book knows no bounds–it’s funny, features yarn-bombing, a brave heroin who defies an evil archduke, and it’s illustrated by Jon Klassen (who did I Want My Hat Back). Extra Yarn is the story of Annabel, who finds a box of yarn and starts knitting, and discovers that the length of yarn is infinite. So she knits sweaters for people, sweaters for pets, sweaters for trees and pickup trucks. Her creations fill her dreary little town with brilliant colour, and might just inspire a young reader to pick up a pair of needles.
Chicken Pig and Cow by Ruth Ohi: Ruth Ohi’s series takes place amongst the residents of a popsicle-stick barn, the residents themselves being plasticize creations, all of whom have been built by Girl. The friends have adventures, misunderstandings, reconciliations and brave rescues. These books were the inspiration for the popsicle stick barn we’ve got at our house.
The Paper Dolls by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb: I love this book by Julia Donaldson, who wrote The Gruffalo. In delightful rhyming verse, she tells the story of a string of paper dolls who went on to have many adventures, and even when their life was over, they lived on in the memory of the little girl who made them. When we made our own string of paper dolls, naturally, we too called them, “Ticky, and Tacky, and Jackie the Backy, and Jim with Two Noses and Jo with the Bow.”
You can get a Paper Dolls template here!
It occurs to me that each of these book features girls who are getting excited and making things, though the Morstad and Gilman do show boys in the mix. But what else am I missing? Are creative boys being left out of picture books? Or is my reading just a little too girl-centric? Please give me your recommendations in the comments.
November 12, 2013
If Margaret Laurence’s The Fire Dwellers were published today, critics would be lauding its uncanny sense of the contemporary moment, how Laurence dares to voice the unspoken truths of motherhood, her pitch-perfect portrayal of the subtleties of maternal ambivalence. Published in 1969, Laurence’s fourth novel belongs with Atwood’s The Edible Woman and Phyllis Brett Young’s The Torontonians as essential Canadian novels born out of the world of The Feminine Mystique. Which puts the book’s contemporary moment-ness in question, but then the lessons of The Fire Dwellers don’t tend to be the kind we pass on to our daughters, however much to their detriment. Not that they’d listen anyway. Isn’t it funny how the history of feminism is so profoundly uncumulative? How we have to learn it for ourselves over and over, and it’s a revolution/revelation every time?
But then The Fire Dwellers is largely about such disconnectedness, between generations, between spouses, friends, between the personal and the political, and—in the case of protagonist Stacey MacAindra—from one’s self, from one’s own life. Stacey is 39, sixteen years married, mother of 4, and according to the sensationalist copy on my Seal Book paperback, she’s looking for a lover. Which isn’t really true, though it’s probably a good way to sell a paperback. Anyone who has read the book, however, will tell you that she is looking for is herself beyond her oppressive roles of wife and mother. Roles which aren’t strictly oppressive; “They nourish me and they devour me too,” she writes of her children, and it’s in this in-between where she’s stuck, imagining the various ways she is destroying her children (by being overbearing, by too much attention, with her anger, all of these suggestions underlined by “helpful” magazine articles suggesting as much) and/or all the ways they would be destroyed anyway if she somehow managed to get away from them.
Through the novel, Laurence plays headlines from television news programs, broadcasting war, turmoil and unrest around the world. In one sense, the headlines are juxtaposed with the domestic, but we soon come to see that these are parallel, that the home-front is no safe haven after all.
“I can’t forget that piece in the paper. Young mother killed her two-month-old infant by smothering it. I wondered how that sort of thing could ever happen. But maybe it was only that the baby was crying, and she didn’t know what to do, and was maybe frantic about other things entirely, and suddenly she found she had stopped the noise. I cannot think this way. I must not.”
Children are hit by cars and killed, neighbours attempt suicide, Stacey and her husband worry about money, she fears that Mac is sleeping with his secretary, her youngest still isn’t talking (and what has she done to her to make this go wrong, Stacey wonders), and just as terrifying as the suffocating demands of motherhood is considering who she will be once the demands are rescinded, when the children are older. Who will she possibly be then?
Laurence’s The Diviners is so central to my literary consciousness, and I couldn’t help but see Stacey in the context of the Manawaka she’d fled from as a young woman, and in relation to Morag Gunn whom she’d stood apart from as a child but whom she’d have so much to talk about if they met up again in adulthood. And I was surprised to discover that Morag didn’t even exist when Laurence wrote The Fire Dwellers–The Diviners would be published 5 years later in 1974. But in The Fire Dwellers, you see the roots of The Diviners taking shape, its ideas and experiments with narrative and form.
Stacey MacAindra is Betty Draper, is calling out for Betty Friedan, though fat load of good a book is going to do her. (I always find it interesting when people critique Betty Draper’s character for her obviousness to Friedan, as though one day every woman in America read The Feminine Mystique, and society flicked a switch). Stacey MacAindra is also so many of us, as we remarked at my book club the other night. “Maybe we all turn into Stacey MacAindra sometime…” as I tweeted last week. Women for whom the day is never long enough to encompass all the things we want to do, all the people we want to or need to be. Women for whom motherhood and selfhood become a battle, with wifehood thrown in for good measure. You’d throw it all away, if you weren’t tied to it inextricably.
Stacey’s green slacks are dated, and so is her slang, but absolutely nothing else is in this novel which 45 years later is a challenge to and a reflection of the world at once.
November 10, 2013
I think that most of us in our 30s will see ourselves somewhere in Kelli Deeth’s short story collection The Other Side of Youth. For me, it was this passage from “Something Happy”:
“I have your grandmother’s china for you,” her mother said. “She took good care of it.”
“I don’t really have room for it,” Carmen said. She suddenly saw her grandmother’s hands–solid and covered in age spots.
“But you will,” her mother said. Carmen heard a strain in her mother’s voice, but when Carmen looked, her mother was not exactly smiling, but looking up and off at something pleasant only she could see.
It reminds me of a conversation my mother and I have had a million times, and all the grandmothers’ china I don’t have room for in my apartment, never mind that I’ve never had china of my own. And that I’ll probably never own a house ever, which would come with a basement I could put the china in until it came time to pass it on to my own daughter to keep in a box and never use.
This passage also reminds me of the woman in Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” whose husband was born the night the Titanic went down, the woman who told Didion that someday she’d be able to afford a house that code $1000 a month. “Someday you will,” she said lazily. “Someday it all comes.”
And Kelli Deeth’s book is about all the ways that it doesn’t, how those inevitable things like basements, china and having babies can go amiss. The final point in particular, which I thought was this book’s most remarkable feature. Just as we’re lately doing a terrific job exploring the many facets and varying experiences of motherhood, so too does Deeth show that not having children is a land of many stories and different experiences. Her characters are childless by choice or otherwise, ambivalent or despairing, looking toward adopting, desperately trying to hold onto high-risk pregnancies, trying to process the emotional pain and trauma of miscarriage, trying to maintain relationships under such circumstances.
A few of these stories are about young women, gritty stories about innocence lost too soon (and isn’t it always too soon)? In those stories of women in their 30s, on “the other side of youth,” Deeth shows that loss of innocence can be just as devastating, illusions only now being shed about what life gives and takes away.
These are dark stories, and yet there glimmers spots of hope and moments of illumination. Lives in pieces may seem like shards, but there is fascinating texture to so many edges.
November 10, 2013
Everything has been a bit heightened around here lately, busy and outside of ordinary. Stuart was working at a conference at the beginning of last week, and so was away a lot. There has been a flurry of activity to have my book copy-edited by the end of this week (which is very exciting!). I was preparing for the Wild Writers Festival in Waterloo on Saturday, and then we found out on Friday night that my poor dad was going to need emergency surgery. My mom drove Iris and I to Waterloo on Saturday morning and left without enough time, which meant that we arrived just as my event was beginning, GPS dropping us off a block away from where we should have been. I’d been breastfeeding in the car as we zipped down the highway, leaning over the carseat, presenting a curious sight to passing drivers, I am sure. The car stopped and I jumped out without even saying goodbye, dashing across an intersection and with no time to even worry about how my mom was going to contend with Iris, who did indeed scream for the entire 80 minutes I was presenting. Apparently, everybody was quite concerned, not knowing that Iris’s end-of-the-world scream is pretty standard for her. She has taken to letting it rip whenever anybody who isn’t me is holding her. After 7pm, this population includes her father, which is a little bit annoying, and we’re hoping it’s just a phase. I know it’s just a phase. But still. A bit rage-inducing.
Anyway, my Wild Writers event went really well, but between worrying about my dad and Bad Iris, I wasn’t really there. (Read Carrie Snyder’s blog, because she was!) We didn’t stay too long after lunch, and drove back to the city without incident. We were happy to learn that my dad was out of surgery and stable, and while his recovery will be long and difficult, I am glad he’s going to be okay. We’ll be going to see him next weekend, in the midst of (inevitably) last-minute preparations for our trip to England. Yes, Bad Iris on a transatlantic flight. Gulp. Luckily, there will be Grandparents at our destination to receive her. And probably hand her back when she starts screaming…
So yes, there has pretty much always been someone around here having a tantrum lately. I am pleased that this someone has not always been me. While Iris sleeps on me, or doesn’t sleep on me, rather, I have been reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, a big fat American-sized book which I’m 500 pages into and not tired of yet. Not a perfect book–I agree with all of Zsuzsi Gartner’s criticisms in her review. And yet, it’s working for me. I enjoyed Jared Bland’s examination of its language in yesterday’s paper.
Also in yesterday’s paper: a story about Harriet’s play school and its role as part of Toronto’s hippie past and the legacy of Rochdale College. And do read “The Wild Thing With People Feet Was My Favourite,” which is an amazing story of the power of picture books and how they shape and reflect our lives. Plus, a Behind the Poem feature from Melanie Dennis Unrau’s Happiness Theads, in which the poet unpacks the strange abbreviations of online mothering forums. And an interview (with recipes for cookies and scones!) by the creators of Alice Eats: A Wonderland Cookbook.