my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

October 30th, 2011

#78 – Saints of Big Harbour by Lynn Coady

Anyone who might dismiss Lynn Coady’s masterful Saints of Big Harbour as a regional novel would be selling themselves short, I think. Yes, it’s set in Nova Scotia in a small town adjunct to an even smaller hamlet where life resists any change that doesn’t first come in the form of a rumour; and yet, it’s as a pure novel that explores the ideas of love, life, and family as I’ve ever read anywhere. The whole book just swooped in and stole my heart.

Guy wants nothing more than to date a girl “not from around here.” “Here” being the place where he’s grown up, outside of town, with a single mother, a sister who has already escaped, and a half-crazed uncle hell bent on ruining his life all the while claiming to save it. And when the girl of his dreams turns out to be slightly unhinged (or a teenager), his life takes a complex turn. As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough, Guy has to contend with Isadore, his unhinged, alcoholic uncle, whose violent, angry, controlling tendencies keep his family under continual threat of emotional explosion. And when Corinne Fortune makes up a story about him, avoiding violence (from her brother, from his uncle) becomes a way of life for poor Guy.

It’s a multi-perspective novel, and more and more Coady’s writing reminds me of other great Canadian storytellers like Paul Quarrington. There’s an element of humour. An instance of absurdity. And yet, it feels so utterly honest and real, and depicts a life that if I took one step to the right, I could completely see myself living. That’s how real her characters feel to me. The story barrels along and it hums with efficiency — there’s so much truth in the telling, from her portrayals of alcoholism to the unhappiness of a teenage girl, that I was consistently amazed at the evenness of Coady’s storytelling — it never falters, never waivers.

(more…)

October 27th, 2011

#77 – Mean Boy by Lynn Coady

After reading Lucky Jim for book club, there was chatter about other “set in post-secondary education” novels and whether or not they were successful. One of the books that was mentioned was Lynn Coady’s Mean Boy. As I’ve talked about earlier, I’ve been on a quest this year to clear off my shelves and get through all the books gathering dust in my life. It’s an impossible task — I’ve been reading my “old” books in a haphazard, semi-alphabetical/dewey-like system since a few months into the RRBB’s life. I was, at first, reading “A” titles from Canada, England, etc., and then gave up and just wanted to power through one country before moving on to another. So, I’ve started with my Canada shelf, and I’m at C now (FINALLY) and have three Lynn Coady novels to get through (four if I add the *new* The Antagonist to the list even though I’ve promised myself that I’ll only read one new book for every one from the TBR pile), which means it’s weeks before I get through just this one particular author, sheesh. All of this rambling is to say that I’m knee-deep in Coady these days. I raced through Mean Boy, am half-way through The Saints of Big Harbour, and had actually started The Antagonist weeks ago before I felt too guilty for not reading all of her backlist. In a lesser writer I’d be frustrated by having to read so many of their books in such a short period of time. Lucky for me then to discover that I LOVE Lynn Coady. (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…)

October 9th, 2011

#73 – A Trick of the Light

I’m jumping ahead to #73, Louise Penny’s A Trick of the Light (#70 was Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart; #71 was Beggar’s Garden by Michael Christie; and #72 was Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis for book club) because if I don’t get something down, I feel like I’ll just be stuck trying to remember books I’ve read months ago and never actually press “publish.”

It’s been a while since I’d read a really good “whack on the head” mystery and Penny’s novel didn’t disappoint. When I got the ARC I’d never a) heard of Louise Penny or b) heard about her Inspector Gamache series. Apparently, A Trick of the Light is her seventh novel in the series and something incredibly dramatic and upsetting happened in the previous novels (which I don’t want to spoil in case I go back and read them) where the ramifications are being felt by both Inspector Gamache, the novel’s main character, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir, his second-in-command.

So, Clara Morrow has her first huge art opening at the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal. It’s an amazing opportunity for Clara, a middle-aged artist who has never had a big break before. Her art remains hopeful, energetic, qualities that her contemporaries outside of this show openly mock and deride, even after her big show.  As if the thought of a review in The New York Times wasn’t hard enough, Clara awakens on the day after her opening to discover a dead woman in her garden. Suddenly, the sweet, “off the map” town of Three Rivers is once again thrown into an investigation. The locals are questioned; some even step out and conduct their own questioning, which feels so utterly cozy, in order to figure out what happened to the victim. Embedded in the art world. everyone, from the art dealers to the gallery owners, from the artists to the critics, is a suspect. And as Inspector Gamache uncovers who actually committed the crime, lives unravel.

There’s a lot to enjoy about the novel. Penny’s a skilled storyteller. She knows how to keep the pace ticking along while still allowing her characters to reveal a rich inner life. There’s a bleakness to the some of the backstory: Inspector Gamache and Beauvoir endured a real tragedy in, I’m assuming, the previous book in the series. The self-reflexive title, referring both to how artwork can change depending upon who might be looking at it, works its way through the novel. Everyone tricks everyone else — no one tells the truth, no one acts faithfully, except, of course, for our hero. Yet, at times, even he’s fallible, entirely human, and has his faults.

At times, there’s a bit too much going on, maybe a few too many characters to keep everything straight. And Penny has this strange writing tick that drove me a bit crazy. Sentence. Sentence. Dramatic sentence. In most cases, the third (which in many cases because an unnecessary new paragraph) sentence became a case of literary gravitas — a dramatic pause that felt almost overwritten in places. That said, I always judge a mystery/thriller by how hooked I am at the beginning. If I’m dying to find out whodunnit, so much so that it takes everything in me not to flip to the end of the book (and who am I kidding sometimes I do), then it’s a solid novel. The poor victim had barely been found before I was dying to know who killer her — and the answer simply does not disappoint.

September 4th, 2011

#69 – Irma Voth

There’s something about Miriam Toews’s writing that I absolutely adore. It’s quirky, yes. It’s stylistically her own, yes. And yet, even though, as a writer, Toews has such a distinctive voice that you’d think that it would overpower the narrative, the characters, it really doesn’t (at least in my humble opinion). In her latest novel, she revisits some familiar themes and/or characters: young girls with troubled home lives, Mennonite families with conflicting issues, generational problems, bossy-rebellious little sisters, and adventures that are necessary and compulsive. Irma Voth, a young, freshly married Mennonite woman who has married outside of her society, lives with her husband (they are both teenagers) in a house on her father’s compound without electricity or running water. They married in secret. Her father has shunned her — she can milk the cows for her house but in no other way is Irma allowed to interact with her family.

When her husband essentially abandons her for asking too many questions (read: they married way too young and there was no way it was going to work out), Irma takes up with a Mexican film crew, and her life is forever changed. Irma misses Canada, her father absconded with the family when she was young, and she, and her sister Aggie, have fond memories of snow and their older sister, Katie. When the events unfold that drive Irma off the compound and onto the streets of Mexico City with Aggie and another, precious, package in tow, the two transform into the people perhaps they were always meant to be: strong, independent young women who both need to accept and come to terms with what Irma calls her “sins.” (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 31st, 2011

Review Catch-Up #s 44 – 47

I have spent three days this week at various doctors appointments and sitting waiting for blood work, and managed to read three books in five days. It’s almost like I’m breastfeeding at all hours again, only I’m not. Actually, it’s nothing like that at all. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite. Regardless, here are some short reviews of books I’ve read lately.

#44 – Saturday Night and Sunday Morning by Allan Sillitoe
Sometimes, when you see the filmed version of a book first, it’s almost impossible not to replay the movie in your head as you read. In the case of Allan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, this was entirely the case. Luckily, both the book and the film are excellent, so I wasn’t disappointed by anything happening in my own head as I read. Sillitoe’s portrait of a young man, a working class, philandering, hard-drinking, impulse-driven, anti-hero remains captivating over 50 years since its publication. I found myself violently engrossed in the film, at times disgusted by Arthur Seaton’s behaviour, his attitude towards women, his own selfishness, and yet utterly thrilled by his voice, his hard-driving anger, and his youth.

Set in a working class section of Nottingham (and forgive me if it’s all working class; I am not familiar with the geography), Seaton works at a bicycle factory, where he gets paid by the piece. Work too fast, and you make too much money, the big bosses will come down on you; work too slow and it isn’t worth your while to get up in the morning. There’s a tender balance Seaton strikes between boredom, completely shutting off to the redundancy of his tasks and letting his mind wander (usually to the state of his love life, which is complex, and full of many married ladies). He served in the army but has no faith in it; he drinks not just because it’s the only thing to do but because it IS the thing to do; and all of his relationships with women are based on lying, cheating and his own awkward concepts of love. Yet, as a character, I couldn’t help but adore him — a prototypical bad boy when it still meant something to buck the system, and the dichotomy of the two parts of Seaton’s life: the Saturday nights spent drinking and with his hand up the shirt of his many married lovers; and the Sunday morning when he goes fishing and perhaps decides upon one girl, nicely contrast the tenor of life in England after the war. Everyone needing to find their footing, their voice, after the collective “pulling together” (Keep Calm and Carry On) as a universal decree. All in all, it’s an excellent novel. (Also exciting is that it’s on the 1001 Books list, whee!).

#45 – State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
Ann Patchett is one of my favourite American novelists. I adored Run, enjoyed Bel Canto, and had my heart broken over Truth & Beauty. But State of Wonder is in an entirely different class — if I had to find a comp, like someone (I can’t remember who) mentioned on Twitter, I’d too suggest Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible. But, truly, the unbridled success of this novel lies in Patchett’s almost post-colonial “talking back” to Joseph Conrad’s classic Heart of Darkness. Now, I read Conrad’s book in first year university and haven’t revisited it since, so it’s hazy, to say the least in my memory. I recall more of Apocalypse Now than I do the novel itself but that doesn’t mean that I can’t theorize that Patchett set out to write back to Heart of Darkness, tackling not necessarily themes of colonialism and “going native” (shuddering to write that sentence) but more so the toll and cost of medical research takes from on our “modern” world.

When Dr. Marina Singh’s workmate and lab partner, Dr. Eckman, is pronounced dead in a far flung letter from Dr. Annick Swenson, a research doctor who has been in the field for almost decades developing and studying a very particular tribe in order to create a fertility drug that could revolutionize women’s reproductive health, she (Dr. Singh) is sent out to retrieve the true story and maybe, just maybe, bring both the body and a report of where the work actually is back to the company for whom they all work. Things go wrong for Marina right from the start — her suitcase is lost, her clothes taken by the Lakashi tribe when she arrives in camp, and soon every vestige of Western life has disappeared from around her. She wears her hair plaited by the Lakashi women, the only dress she has comes from them as well, and without sun protection, the half-Indian Marina’s skin bronzes so deeply that even she notices how different she looks than when at home suffering through a long, terrible Minnesota winter.

Classically trained as a OBGYN, Marina gave up her medical practice due to a terrible accident, and has been a pharmacologist ever since. Yet, once she finds Dr. Swenson (and the path that got her there was no less than difficult), her skills as a doctor are called upon — an in unclean, unhygienic and utterly disorganized (in terms of performing surgeries), and Marina’s life takes a turn in a direction she never imagined. The novel’s ending, both spectacular and breathtaking, has perfect pacing — I couldn’t put it down, and it brought me to my knees. I found myself reading and reading, any chance I could get, morning, deep into the night, just to find out what happens. And the last sentences, just like the amazing ones that end The Poisonwood Bible, stayed with me for days. Highly recommended; it’s perfect summer reading in my humble opinion.

#46 – Faith by Jennifer Haigh
I’m going to be honest — the subject matter of this novel remains difficult for many reasons — the church and its history/current struggle with pedophilia doesn’t necessarily equate “light,” “breezy” read. Yet, the tone and undercurrent of Jennifer Haigh’s novel, while neither light nor breezy, is both generous and kind, a difficult balance to achieve when discussing Catholic priests and the matter of faith in general. The narrator of the story, a self-proclaimed (at the beginning of the novel) modern-day “spinster,” Sheila McGann retells a story her half-brother Art, a priest who has found himself embroiled in a scandal that threatens not only his livelihood but also his life, and his core beliefs.

Sheila returns to Boston to help her family in the time of crisis. Art, accused of an unspeakable act with a young boy, the grandson of the rectory’s housekeeper, with whom he has a parental-like relationship, shakes everyone to their cores. I know it’s a cliche — family comes upon tragedy, novel unravels whether or not the accusations are true — but Haigh has a gift for character, and while this novel remains very traditional in its narrative format, I was impressed at how she tackled the subject matter. Haigh never shies away from the difficult nature of it, and I like how faith as a concept remains interwoven throughout the narrative. Arthur has never questioned his calling. But, like anyone, it’s impossible to know when something might happen to rock your beliefs, earthquake-like, and send you reeling in another direction. Innocent, even naive, to the ways of the world, Art finds himself questioning everything he has ever known: the church, his ministry, the idea of love, when he comes to face to face with Kath, the mother of the young boy he is accused of abusing. It takes the entire novel to truly find out what happened. And no one is left unscathed, not even the reader. Faith is a novel that forces one to evaluate one’s own relationship to God, to the church, even if you’re a non-believer. It’s impossible to stand in judgment, of anyone’s life, and I think that is the eloquent point that Haigh makes throughout this book. It’s one that definitely got me thinking. And I’m a girl who got the majority of her religious schooling from Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? when she was a child. Of course, I read more widely about religion in university. (I still remember sitting with a particularly obnoxious Religion major at Queen’s who honestly said to me, “You know, it’s not as if I’m totally obsessed with God or anything, I just think Jesus was a really cool guy.” Seriously. That was her take on her entire degree. Good grief.) Regardless, the kind of storytelling that Haigh purports in this novel usually drives me crazy (the retelling of a story when one could choose just to tell the damn story) but it’s subtly balances nicely with the seriousness of the subject matter and I don’t think she could have written it another way. By the end, I was a little heartbroken, which, for me, is always the sign of a very good novel indeed.

#47 – Every Time We Say Goodbye by Jamie Zeppa
This is a Vicious Circle book club book, and I’m so pleased that I’ll get to discuss it with a great group of women. It’s a women’s novel (as you can see from the awful cover [I’m sorry but it really, really isn’t reflective of the book]) rather than dreamy chicklit as the cover suggests. I know what it’s going for — there’s a pair of siblings that the novel centres around, but the cover adds a layer of Hallmark Movie of the Week that dumbs down Zeppa’s sharp, instinctive and eager writing.

Told from multiple perspectives, the book follows three generations of Turner women, some blood, some married to blood, who each struggle with the idea of family, what it means to be a mother, and the difficult restrictions society, at different times over the last 50 years, for people of my gender. I fell particularly in love with Grace, a woman forced to leave her son behind to make a better life for herself in the city. Her strength, ability and the way she came into her own was particularly breathtaking. There’s a lot in the novel that isn’t necessarily fresh (troubled fathers, difficult women that seem cut from Lawrence, “women’s” troubles) but Zeppa finds a way in that is both refreshing and real — and I enjoyed this book immensely. I just have one tiny criticism — there’s a main character, Vera, a matriarchal figure, that we never hear from, she’s only portrayed through other people’s stories. I would have enjoyed knowing more about her point of view, her perspective, but I understand how too many voices could also ruin this novel. Regardless, it too is a perfect summer read. Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

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about me

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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