my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

October 27th, 2011

#76 – Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

Short stories are epic and amazing things to read on the subway. They give you the false impression that they are “lighter” reading than novels because of their length, but I’ve been finding that so many of the collections I’ve read as of late pack an emotional punch that knocks me out after ten rounds a-la the Ali rope-a-dope, and none walloped me harder than Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner.

Like many obnoxious city dwellers, I pride myself on my political correctness. I urge my life forward in terms of pop culture knowledge and feel some pride that I can still scramble in some quality viewing in terms of films, television. I’m achingly earnest about my interest in environmental issues, even if we struggle on a daily basis with our consumption and teaching our families about our feelings about how much stuff there is in the world. But Zsuzsi Gartner takes a machete to pop culture, and slices through it with her razor-sharp prose, like I said on Twitter, and inevitably makes you think about it in a way that consistently questions my own steadfast resolve in my own “goodness” (if that makes any sense).

In many of her stories, there’s an element of the fantastic — a man reverts back to the stone age, becoming more neanderthal by the day, barbecues become open pits, women turn feral, and a young girl rides out of the ravine on a tortoise. The group of neighbours, all healthy, wealthy and utterly politically correct, can’t understand what’s so appealing about ripping open a 2-4 and roasting giant, hulking hunks of meat over an open flame. Houses disappear due to mud slides (I imagine) but never claim a human life. Young, adopted Chinese girls fly up into the air and are no longer human. The stories are awe-inspiring. Both in the sense that Gartner’s awe-inspiring imagination is unparalleled in Canadian writing (I think) but also in how she manages to create a world that’s so utterly familiar and terrifically strange at the same time. I’s kind of like Fringe, in a way, with two realities — the one in which I live every day and the other where it’s not strange to see a blimp floating on by. (more…)

October 20th, 2011

#75 – What We All Long For by Dionne Brand

There’s a definite advantage to being back at work and that’s reading time during my morning and evening commutes. One would think that would have me reading at a furious pace except that now my days are so full that I feel as though we are in a sailboat during one hell of a windstorm with the waves threatening to capsize our vessel at any moment. So, I’m reading but I’m not finishing a lot of books. And I’m still desperately trying to get through my shelves because I’ve started, gasp, collecting all kinds of books again now that they are there and ripe for the picking. I just can’t seem to resist a shortlist these days.

So, I finished Dionne Brand’s novel, What We All Long For, a couple weeks ago, and haven’t had the chance to string any thoughts together until now. The novel opens up with a heartbreaking tragedy: a Vietnamese family attempting to flee their native country loses their son in the mayhem of the escape. Quy’s father thinks his mother has him; his mother thinks the opposite. And it turns out neither does, the boy, just a toddler really, mistakes a pair of shoes, pants, for his father and ends up on a boat that takes him entirely away from his loved ones and into a world of crime, abuse and relentless self-survival. When his family lands in Toronto, they are broken and never truly recover, even the siblings born after the boy is lost feel an emptiness where a there should be a brother.

Quy’s youngest sister Tuyen, whom he never met, bridges the difficult gap between the two worlds. Her parents want her to stay home, to be more family-oriented, and she wants to spread her wings, explore her art and her sexuality, move beyond the sadness that has defined their lives to this point. Tuyen and her friends Carla, Oku and Jackie, are all young, just trying to find a way to live life on their own terms, to battle their own demons. They are the children of immigrants straddling expectations and opportunities with an increasingly split perspective, and writing this kind of dichotomy is something that Brand does exceptionally well. (more…)

October 11th, 2011

#74 – The Communist’s Daughter

I remember reading all about the advance and/or the sale of Dennis Bock’s first novel, The Ash Garden. And when I read the novel, I was completely taken by not only the story but his writing as well. But then, The Communist’s Daughter, despite how much I enjoyed the first novel, sat on my shelves for years and years and years. So I’m glad that I’m reading in alphabetical order because this novel probably would have sat on my shelves for another many years without it.

Years ago, I felt very Canadian as I watched on the CBC or some such, Donald Sutherland’s starring role as Norman Bethune. Who knows why, but in my romantic youth I was obsessed with Bethune. Perhaps I had always dreamed of communist doctors fighting for the good cause in faraway places. Perhaps I had idealized the idea of the Spanish Civil War in terms of all the great minds that participated in the cause. All of this is to say that I’m much older now. No longer a wide-eyed innocent, I enjoyed Bock’s portrayal of Bethune in this novel, even if, as anyone know who reads this blog, the format (it’s epistolary) drove me bananas.

The novel opens with a series of letters, each in a different ‘envelope,’ written on old typewriter with a mocked up old ribbon to Bethune’s daughter, whom he has never met. Born in Spain to his Swedish lover, the girl’s mother passed away in tragic circumstances, leaving Bethune bereft but not dissuaded from his cause. When he begins his tale, truly a record of his life, loves and losses, for his daughter, Bethune’s in China attempting to shore up battlefield surgeries, improve their frontline medical conditions and teach the masses about not only blood transfusions but also the fundamentals of Western hospital care. Struck with tuberculosis while a younger man, his lungs are troubled now and his health is failing. Before he finishes, he needs to tell his daughter everything about his life, from beginning to end, and the narrative skips back and forth from Canada to China, from Spain and the oceans in between. (more…)

September 2nd, 2011

Good Gravy, Reviews, Wha?

I am so behind in, not just my reading, but my writing about my reading it isn’t even funny. So, for posterity, I have finished the following books:

#66 – A Gate At The Stairs by Lorrie Moore

Truth be told, I loved this book like a high school crush, I couldn’t get enough of it. The tragedy of it felt a bit forced but the writing remained so fresh and inspiring all the way through that I forgave Moore for the melodrama. Her writing reminds me a little of Miriam Toews (I’m reading Irma Voth right now) and perhaps that’s why I ear-marked about 100 pages of phrases and thoughts that melted my heart as Tassie Keltjin, a 20-year-old university student who becomes a nanny only for the entire situation to go so magnificently awry in the most horrible of ways (no death, nothing gruesome, just sad), suffers through one of the most pivotal years of her life. The book is so, so sad, but that’s what makes it so, so good in my estimation.

#67 – Pulse by Julian Barnes

Personally, and I’ll take anyone to task, I think Barnes is one of the best short story writers working today. It’s an amazing little collection. I liked every story. I love Barnes. I don’t know what else to say. Well, except that the package — the cover art etc., is terrible. Truly.

#68 – Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay

My, when I started this book I raved and raved to my aunt that Elizabeth Hay was one of the best Canadian writers working today. The story of the young girl’s murder, the narrator’s amazingly intriguing aunt Connie, the setting (Ottawa and Saskatchewan), it all came together and gave me a reason to rip through the pages, and then half-way through the book, the whole thing sort of fell flat, like a ginger ale, really awesome when you first open it, then by the time you get to the bottom of the can, your teeth hurt and your whole mouth feels kind of fuzzy. It’s not her best novel, and that’s all I’m going to say at the moment because I am about to go and play some cards on my last night here at the cottage.

July 26th, 2011

#54 – Suddenly

First, I am going to preface this review with a statement: I adored Bonnie Burnard’s The Good House. It’s a novel I picked up on a whim from Book City when it was first published and sang its praises to everyone who would listen for years. It’s a classic, right up there with The Stone Diaries, Clara Callan, and Away (book I read all around the same time), and so I was excited to read Bonnie Burnard’s latest novel Suddenly, if only because it’s the first one she’s published in 10 years. That’s a long time to wait.

Sadly, I probably never should have read this book. It’s neither the right time of my life (it’s a novel about truly middle-aged women) nor am I in the right frame of mind (having spent the last nine months battling my own life-threatening disease, I couldn’t quite cope with the breast cancer victim at the centre of the novel) to appreciate the gift of Suddenly. There’s no doubt in my mind that Bonnie Burnard’s a wonderful writer. She has an ability to bring the everyday to the page that’s unparalleled by many of her contemporaries. It’s a unique gift, and her voice reminds me deeply of Carol Shields, which is why I was so very disappointed in this book.

Sandra, our heroine, finds an evil lump in her breast at the end of the summer — her grandchildren have just gone back to the city with her husband, and she sits alone after a swim contemplating the hard reality of her future. Of course, her friend Jude has battled breast cancer and survived, and Sandra hopes she will too. Alas, it is not to be, and the majority of the novel takes place on her deathbed, that awesome Canadian-woman-writer-trope, where the family rallies around and all of the action takes place in reverse as the dying go through their lives, their relationships, their happiness and their regrets with a fine-toothed comb.

But one remains easily lost within this book because the point of view isn’t that simple, it switches from Sandra, to her best friend Colleen (who is beautiful, but childless, natch, and married to Sandra’s brother, the surgeon Richard), to her other best friend Jude (the ex-hippie, jilted by a Texan lover who left her on a farm to go fight the Vietnam war after casually fathering her son), to her husband Jack, and back again. It’s all over the place and the pronoun “she” doesn’t help matters when all three main characters are women…

It’s a tedious book, with tedious, unbelievable characters: Sandra’s a saint; so’s Colleen only she’s beautiful too, Jude’s “wild” but reformed, and they all feel so old they’re covered in a layer of dust. These are the women of my mother’s generation, one of them could have been my mother, and yet they have no sense of humour, no sense of adventure and really no life in them at all — even when it’s “flashing” before them as their best friend fades away in a cloud of morphine and horrible pain from an awful disease that takes far too many women. The title confused me for nothing happens quickly in this book — Burnard takes pages and pages to describe the most mundane aspects of everyday life, episodes that would have been best excised, and the whole novel would have been better for me if it read chronologically, if I got to see these women through their lives and not just as flashbacks in Sandra’s journals, which, of course, she kept religiously her entire life.

But I feel bad being so critical, which is why I think that my original statement, that it’s neither the right time of my life nor am I in the right mindset to contemplate a novel about someone so willingly giving in to a disease — not fearing death is one thing but Sandra’s utterly unrealistic in terms of her approach to illness; no one is as saintly as she’s portrayed on the page, no one. There’s no anger, and even when there is, it’s slightly ridiculous — two women having slight “words” during a winter storm and then poof, it’s back to celebrating Sandra and her ability to hold the other two women together. Yawn.

I much prefer Lionel Shriver’s approach to illness: frank, honest, angry, and also accepting — there’s something raw and real to how she writes about sickness, and I appreciated it. There’s tedium to being sick, to having tests, to being stuck in a bed, and anger, relentless, unceasing anger about the fact that your body just isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. And I’d hope that Sandra would have a glimpse of this throughout the book, that someone, anyone, might rage against the dying of the light just a little before rubbing more lotion on her cold feet or recalling some other wonderful thing she did during her abnormally normal life and marriage.

So don’t blame Burnard — it’s a great book club book for women of my mother’s age, it’s a terrific book to give your mother-in-law for Christmas, and it would have done wonders if Oprah’s Book Club still existed and ever considered that Canada has a literature from which to choose reading material. But Suddenly, with its long, drawn-out conclusion (Sandra dies! People mourn!) just didn’t cut it for me, a girl of a certain age who has battled a mean-ass frustrating disease for months.


#53 – The Retreat

This may be hyperbole, but I think David Bergen is a national treasure. It’s quite a statement to say that over the course of reading four of his novels, his Giller winner (The Time in Between) remains my least favourite. People, it won a major prize! Overall, I devoured A Year of Lesser and See the Child, and thought they were both excellent. But The Retreatmight just be my favourite Bergen novel so far — but I haven’t read The Matter with Morris(just the first 50-odd pages for work), so I am reserving judgment until then.

The majority of the action in The Retreat takes place at a camp, the retreat of the novel’s title, near The Lake of the Woods, just outside of Kenora. The landscape, having spent about a week there at a cottage of an old ex-boyfriend way back in the way back, is beautiful. The Lake of the Woods itself is huge, with crisp blue waters, but the pond close to the property isn’t. It’s murky, filled with reeds, and just as dangerous — it’s an important distinction, because major accidents and/or incidents happen throughout the book on or close to the water, and Bergen’s ability to weave such an archetypal theme (man vs. nature) within his more specific, personal story, remains one of the book’s true accomplishments.

But let me digress. Raymond Seymour, an 18-year-old Ojibway boy, finds himself embroiled in an love affair with niece of the local police. Their relationship — hot and heavy — burns out quickly, and not just as a result of the intervention of her father and uncle but, because, it’s just not meant to last. Alice’s uncle takes Raymond out onto the Lake and dumps him on an island — expecting him not to return. This dynamic, bad cop/good kid, feels familiar, and it should, the relationship goes exactly where you expect and the penultimate action remains utterly heartbreaking. It’s 1974, and Bergen chooses as a secondary background of sorts, to wrap The Kenora Crisisaround his story, even though Raymond and his brother, who has just returned from being “raised” (read: forcibly removed) by a Mennonite family in the south, are tangentially involved in the uprising.

When Lizzie Byrd (17) and her family arrive at The Retreat, a quasi-commune run by “the Doctor,” a self-important, psycho-babbling fool who cons people into believing he can heal their souls by “talk” and the simple life of camp, she’s reluctant to participate. The births of her younger siblings have been hard on her mother, and her father desperately tries to save his family and her sanity by granting her every wish — in this case, it’s to spend the summer at The Retreat. Lizzie meets Raymond and a cautious friendship evolves into something more substantial. As the summer progresses, their feelings grow deeper, regardless of whether they truly understand one another’s complex situations (her crazy family; his unfortunate situation with the cop that never seems to end). But as the season comes to an end, the novel finds its conclusion — the characters, distraught, damaged and utterly changed by the events of the summer. It’s an amazingly quiet novel for the amount of emotional damage that is wrought on the people within, which remains Bergen’s exceptional ability as a writer — to place people in crisis and not let them entirely recover.

This is my favourite kind of book, a great setting, a complex, real issue that meant something in history, family dynamics that remain complex and difficult, and action that’s both believable and well-paced. In short, it’s an excellent read, probably one of the best books off my shelf. The Bs have been utterly kind to me (Barnes, Bergen, brilliant!).


May 15th, 2011

#43 – Last Night In Montreal

Before sitting down to write about Emily St. John Mandel’s first novel, Last Night in Montreal, I wanted to do a pros and cons list of my own pre-conceived notions about fiction in general. My innate likes and dislikes, if you will. There are cliches in writing that I just can’t stand — easy things that authors fall back on because they are such a part of our collective unconscious, if you will, that even if one doesn’t realize you’re writing a trope, you’re still writing a trope.

Circus performers. The idea of running away to the circus. And as prevalent and innovative, even successful as the modern day Cirque du Soleil might be in Canada and around the world, sentences like, ‘they were part of a circus family when that was still something that could be done,’ or the like, make me cringe, just a little (read: a lot). It’s not that good books can’t be written and/or good stories can’t be told about circuses (case in point: Water for Elephants, which I have not read, but has been on bestseller lists for almost four years) or great drama created out of the idea of someone walking a tightrope (case in point: the excellent Colum McCann novel, Let the Great World Spin). Yet, in this novel, when the circus performer characters are dropped in, it feels forced and full of anguish — like an imagination that’s had too much caffeine and is trying to finish an all nighter — something just isn’t right and someone probably should have started cramming earlier.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Lilia, a distinct but also wispy and beautiful young woman, has trouble staying in one place. She was raised by her father who kidnapped her away from her mother one cold winter’s evening and she hasn’t stopped running since. Lilia’s an interesting character — she’s bright, can speak several languages (taught to her by her father on the road) and has to work through her past by constantly moving on to the next location. She doesn’t normally give her lovers any warning. She simply packs up her stuff, stashes it away, and then leaves when she feels she can’t stay any longer. Her safety — mentally, physically — is at risk, and so she must go. Eli, her current Brooklyn-living boyfriend, can’t accept that she’s gone, so he goes on the road to try and find her. He doesn’t necessarily want her to come back. No, he just wants an explanation, and to know that she’s okay. So off Eli goes to Montreal. Why Montreal? Well, Eli receives a missive from someone named Michaela, who claims to know where Lilia is…

In tandem with the current-day storyline that follows Lilia, Elia and Michaela, the novel drifts back in time via different characters to fill out the novel. The most engaging parts of the book take place on the road with Lilia and her father — there’s a wonderful dynamic between the two, and even if I do find Lilia kind of twee for my liking, I can see how kidnapping her both saved and damaged her at the same time. But here’s also where the book goes off the rails a little bit, there’s a private detective, Christopher (paid by whom, who knows? It’s never explained.) who becomes obsessed by the case (he’s Michaela’s father; this is the circus stock family). These two families are now intertwined, and their complex relationship forms the crux of the novel.

There’s no doubt that St. John Mandel is a terrific writer. She has a gift for description and the book hums along — it’s just not, from my point of view, entirely believable. There’s a ‘movie of the week’ element to it that I just couldn’t shake and I will hold any “damaged” girls up to Baby in Lullabies for Little Criminals and always find them wanting. And the circus performers. Of the entire novel, I appreciated the ending, but the penultimate scenes and resulting action, well, that also falls into the “tired” category — to spell it out would be to completely spoil the novel, so I’m not going to do that here, as per usual. On the whole, it’s a terrifically uneven first novel, but it’s also just that — a first novel, and I do actually look forward to reading more from St. John Mandel in the future.

WHAT’S UP NEXT: The last of my library books for a while — Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. Then it’s back to the shelves for sure — I am very behind in my challenge, and by alphabetized books are just mocking me, mocking me!

April 5th, 2011

Notes From A House Frau XVIII

At this very moment, my RRBB, after an exhausting few minutes of rolling over, fussing because he can’t get himself back again (like a turtle on its back only in reverse; it’s quite funny), has spent the last fifteen or so minutes looking at himself in the mirror on his activity mat. His concentration skills are hilarious. I’m not sure at all what he sees in the mirror but he’s absolutely enamoured with whatever it is…

Here is our wee boy at five months (five months!) [And this picture is already three weeks old because he’s 26 weeks tomorrow]. He’s starting to have quite the little personality. My temper, my RRHB’s response to anything traumatic (to go to sleep), and a lovely happy smile that belongs to him alone. Everyone keeps telling us that this is the best of the baby stage — when they get to this age, five or six months, but I’m enjoying every baby stage these days, if only because it’s all so new to me, and just so damn fun. That’s not to say that I’m not exhausted, because I am, beyond words, and that I’m not frustrated by how the disease still refuses to calm down, because I am, but I’m trying to be calm and collected, find a quiet routine we can settle into, and make the most of the time that I have before heading up to the cottage for the summer (without plumbing!).

We gave the RRBB some sweet potatoes this afternoon. His very first non-cereal food. He decided about four bites in that enough was enough and he’d really just prefer to breast feed. It’s a slow, patient process, this real-food business. Like anything, I am excited for him and want to record every little thing that happens — but I can’t be sure that when he’s older, he’ll actually want to know.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen many doctors: SFDD, kidney doctor, gastro doc, and had some blood work done today. I’m not going to lie — I’ve been panicking inside a whole lot about the state of my poor kidneys. I have tried to be positive, tried to look at the bright side of it all (that my condition is essentially unchanged since two weeks before having the baby), and yet regardless of all the drugs, of all the “resting,” of all the not working, my creatinine is still sky high as is my blood pressure. In all the years I’ve had the disease, I’ve never had high blood pressure — and I hate taking medicine for things that my body should just do right — and it scares me when I put the cuff on and get a reading like 146/98. We can’t afford any more restorative yoga at the moment, and the money I thought would last us a year barely made it through six months. Such is life, right?

Last time, I promised I would stop complaining about being sick. Or tired. Sick and tired. A lot of residual shock and awe about how everything turned out led me to try and read other birth stories. Helen left a comment letting me know about a collection called Great Expectations: Twenty-Four True Stories About Childbirth edited by Lisa Moore and Dede Crane (#31). And it’s excellent (thank you Toronto Public Library for loaning me a copy). I whipped through it in just a couple of hours (over a few days) and came to the conclusion that not a single birth plan goes according to, well, plan. For something that women have been doing since women were, well, invented, childbirth is as complex and ever-changing as people are themselves. I needed to read this — I needed to know that despite all the best laid plans (birthing tubs, doulas, midwifes, home births, drugs, no drugs) that a women might set out before her due date, chances are something dramatic will change in the minutes when she shouts “it’s time” at her husband and/or significant other. It’s a bright, fascinating collection — not a single one of the writers fall back into cliche to describe their experiences, which I felt was a revelation considering most pop culture birth stories coming to us via television and the movies aren’t remotely realistic. Like firefighters heading into a blaze without their masks, they’re all panting and fake screaming, with babies popping out looking six months old already. But this collection is painstakingly honest, achingly real and just what I needed to read.

Anyway, I don’t have much else to say. I’ve been trying to write this blog post for over a week now and the RRBB hasn’t let me get much done. I’ve got two book reviews to get to and a to-do list that is as long as my arm. So, I will stop rambling, for now.

March 21st, 2011

Notes From A House Frau XVI

RRBB has been hitting some very fun milestones lately. He had his first taste of solid food (if you can call it that) as the picture here depicts. He slept through the night: twice (even though in the few hours preceding the long sleep he was over-tired and ridiculously manic, but not upset). He visited a sugar bush and an antique mall (or, rather, his bored parents dragged him to said sugar bush and said antique mall). And he was babysat for the second time while my RRHB and I went to see the Elephant 6 collective at Lee’s Palace on Friday night. Shockingly, he’s still the happy, well adjusted, easy baby we’ve brought into this world.

Of course, I’m still not sleeping from the drugs. But the odd night isn’t so bad here and there, I can handle it. It’s funny, I get poetic about it in a way: the sun rises and it sets, the moon comes out, but without that deep hours-long pause — time passing in an instant because you are, well, unconscious, everything blurs into one, breakfast feels like a late night snack, lunch disappears, and dinner is always rushed, trying to cram the day in before the bedtime routine starts. As always, I am at a loss for spoken words. Friends came over for dinner yesterday and I just couldn’t finish my sentences, kept forgetting words, used the wrong words, filled up the space with malapropisms — when does the ‘baby brain’ end? Perhaps when I get more consistent, consecutive rest, or perhaps when the RRBB turns 18 and heads off to university. Who knows. For now, I’m struggling with simple sentences while complex thoughts careen around my brain like snowflakes — always melting before they necessarily land.

We went to the Bloor/Gladstone library last week, and it was glorious. It really is a beautiful building and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy libraries. I haven’t truly visited one on a regular basis since being in grad school, and now that we’re pinching every penny, I simply can’t afford to buy books. I’ve been wondering a lot about other birth stories, wanting to compare experiences, wanting to maybe experience a little catharsis too in terms of my own trials and tribulations. So, one of the books I picked up was Rebecca Eckler’s Knocked Up (#27). I didn’t read anything other then What to Expect When You’re Expecting while I was pregnant, and now that I’m no longer pregnant (although still with-pooch), I am curious to know about other mothers-to-be. I mean, not everyone ends up on the special pregnancy ward of Mt. Sinai hospital with their lungs bleeding before giving birth, right?

In short, I wanted to know what normal was like, in a way. Granted, there was a little too much: “is my ass fat????” throughout Knocked Up, and I don’t know that I would have chosen a c-section had one not been chosen for me (I was oddly looking forward to the experience of giving birth). But I did laugh in various places, and while I know Eckler takes a lot of flack for her self-involved, me-first, examination of both pregnancy and parenthood, I actually enjoyed the lighthearted nature of the book. More chicklit than the nauseating “motherhood makes me a saint” stance of so much that I find online relating to this situation we’re in (yes, motherhood), Knocked Up gave me a bit of a mental break in terms of contemplating all that happened to me, and that’s all I’d ask of it. It was an easy-breezy read and I’m jealous of her ability to stay so completely focussed on not changing in the midst of such a huge change.

That’s not something I’ve been able to do — none of my clothes fit, in fact, I can’t even seem to find three-quarters of my wardrobe, having packed things away to who knows where in the house. My body is so very different and I barely recognize myself in the mirror. The shock of the naked self in the shower is enough to give up food forever, and were it not for the prednisone encouraging my stomach to crave every baked good on the face of this earth, I just might. I need to get more exercise, and I was actually jealous when the Rebecca in Knocked Up went out on a girl date barely two weeks into her daughter’s existence. There’s a level of guilt that I feel the moment I am away from the baby — that I am being a bad mother in a way by not constantly being in his company. I know that’s crazy, and ridiculous, and that doesn’t mean that I don’t hand him off to his father for hours at a time, but it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier leaving him. But to get back to my point, the physical changes — shorter hair, chubbier me, bloating from the meds — feel so much more permanent these days than the mental ones.

The mental part of being a mother seems easy these days. There’s love. You give it out, a lot of it. There’s patience, which sometimes gets tested. There’s joy. There’s boredom, and there’s bliss — but it all comes together in a pretty awesome package. So, I don’t blame someone for obsessing about the size of their ass — it’s overwhelming to contemplate all of the physical and mental changes at the same time, something’s got to give. I was remembering way back in the way back this week. An old boss I had at an evil corporation that I used to work for (which no longer exists) took us out for lunch within the first few months of her assuming a position she later proved she was utterly unqualified for. She had just finished mat leave for her second child and we were talking about babies. At some point, and I can’t remember what preceded the moment, she crinkled up her face and said that she really didn’t like babies, not even her own. Perhaps she likes her kids when they get out of the difficult infant stage, who knows, but all I’ve been thinking this week is how awesome babies are. I know I shouldn’t be so judgmental but as if I didn’t need another reason to post-actively hate the woman, now I even think she’s kind of inhumane. I’ve already forgotten the witching hour, the exhaustion, the frustration of the first little while, and moved on to complete and utter adoration.

I know it won’t always be like this — and we’re so lucky that we have an extremely easy going baby — but, for right now, I’m wallowing in the fun of it all. Charging ahead with crazy vampire kisses and holding that baby high up in the air to hear him squeal. Suffering through the whining when he’s in the car seat to enjoy a beautiful spring day where it neither rains nor snows — where the sun actually feels warm. Staying up far past my bedtime to enjoy a moment of non-couch (baby STILL only sleeps on me for long periods of time) freedom to watch reruns of Law and Order. Listening to him giggle uncontrollably downstairs as my RRHB plays with him. Even sobbing uncontrollably because of the hormones and whatever else is coarsing through my system because of the meds. It’s all awesome in a traditional sense of the word — it inspires awe in me that this is my life now, that my life contains another’s so completely at the moment, all things that I didn’t know when I was just pregnant and hoping to live. I am thankful that I did. I wouldn’t want to miss any of this.

Other library finds for this week: Blink, A History of the World in 10 and 1/2 Chapters, West Toronto Junction, Christina Rossetti: Selected Poems, as well as Knocked Up. I’ve been reading a poem a night before I go to bed, just dipping into them, and found this delicious line that somewhat sums up my last couple weeks: “O clamorous heart, lie still.”

As if it could. As if.

March 19th, 2011

#26 – Light Lifting

Light Lifting, Alexander MacLeod’s remarkable book of short stories, was our book club selection this month. I have to admit I did complain a little about reading yet another short story collection. In my mind, I’d grown a bit weary of the format and wanted something a little juicier, a little longer, to dig my teeth into. The women in my club are the smartest book people around and we have amazing discussions about books but this was our third story collection in a row and I had very mixed feelings about the other two.

But I’ve come to a very different conclusion after reading Light Lifting. I’m not tired of the short story. I’m tired of reading uneven collections where the stories are too dependent on quirks for them to be plausible and/or plot-worthy. With Light Lifting, and like The Lemon Table, I was ridiculously impressed, not only by the quality of the writing, but also by the cohesiveness of the stories themselves within the book. MacLeod hasn’t written a linked book of short stories but each of the pieces includes are complete in a way that many lesser writers, some of whom we’ve read over the last few months in our book club, fail to achieve with any consistency.

There are real people between the pages of Light Lifting and while they all undergo some sort of life changing event, the writing around it remains subtle, metaphors don’t stick out like sore thumbs, nothing supernatural happens, there’s nothing ‘put-upon’ in terms of their suffering — things just happen. Neighbourhoods change. Plants shut down. Fights break out in bars. But it’s the intersection of these events and the places where his characters in his stories are in their lives that combine to create a remarkable moment. Someone at book club described it as pivotal — something you don’t realize at the time, or you do but it takes some time to reflect — and one is forever changed.

I would hate to single out one story as my favourite among such rich bedfellows. But, as I always read so personally, the last story, “The Number Three,” about a man who killed his wife and son in a tragic car accident, ripped open my heart and splayed it out — I bawled. I mean, of course I did, even from the very first sentence, I knew I didn’t have an emotional chance against this story: “The single fried egg might be life’s loneliest meal.” The psychological ramifications of the accident, regardless of whether or not it was his fault, are deep. And ironic, as he was a career man working for GM, and story’s title plays on ideas of the big three, and the decline of the industry in general. So much is taken away from this protagonist, and even when there’s a moment where he might take a step forward, the palpable pain that prevents the step is achingly apparent. It’s just damn fine writing.

And in another bit of fine “life equals art” moments: there’s a part in “Wonder About Parents” where the dad takes the baby, five months old or so, into the change room and discovers she’s pooped so much that it’s easier just to throw her outfit into the trash and carry on. They’re on a road trip, heading home for the holidays, and the baby isn’t well. His wife makes him go back and retrieve the clothes, they were a gift, they can be washed — clothes are expensive. He does. Well, we were discussing that particular moment when the RRBB had his own, ahem, explosion at book club and I contemplated throwing all of his clothes out, but didn’t, because he was wearing a pair of pants that I adore, that were also a gift. But, goodness, the child had poo IN HIS HAIR.

Overall, it was a wonderful book club brunch, and every single one of us loved the book. It’s up there in terms of one of the best I’ve read so far this year (but The Illumination still holds the crown thus far, I think). But I’d highly, highly recommend this book — in fact, I’d be happy to pass my copy along to anyone who might want to read it, I loved it that much. Light Lifting needs to be shared, discussed, and celebrated — it’s that good.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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